Aug. 12, 2015

Summer in a Bottle

Summer in a Bottle

Here we are in the height of summer and the warm weather is not showing any sign of letting up soon. Consequently, the produce abounds. If you are anything like me, there is a never ending supply of produce around that is "begging" to be put up for the winter. Canning, freezing, pickling, drying - no small task. In fact, these activities can consume your life AND your kitchen for a period of time - depending on how carried away you get. Well, I get carried away. I am in love with creating a pantry full of old fashion preserves and modern takes on old time favorites.

Some of my fondest childhood memories revolve around the harvest of the garden and the magical transformation of produce into rows of gleaming jars, filled with yummy jams, pickles, fruits and sauces. It meant the morning toast would be slathered in luscious wild berry jams and the pancakes would be blanketed by velvety cinnamon applesauce. The pickle variety was endless as well as several different types of relishes. Of course there were dozens of jars filled with staples like green beans, carrots, peaches and pears. The freezer housed the tender veggies like peas and corn as well as fruit for pie making. Any given winter, our basement shelves had hundreds of quarts of food, waiting to feed the family of five. As an adult, I carried on with this tradition, especially when I had a massive garden and family at home. I got supreme satisfaction knowing the root cellar /canning pantry was filled by the fall. But things change and over time. I have found a few problems with the traditional canning recipes from my childhood.

The tricky thing about canning and preserving is that you can actually create a dangerous product if you deviate from tested methods and recipes. Preserving food in a jar really is an alchemy of the correct amount of time and heat applied to just the right amount of acid/salt/sugar, to transform your fruit, veg or meat into a product that appears to be frozen in time. With so many variables,  there are so many places where it can all go wrong. Food sanitation and following tested procedure is so important in home canning. It can be a little scary to venture out into the exploration for new editions of preserves. For years I followed the old recipes to a T, but was always a little disturbed and the sheer amount of sugar and salt in so many of the preserves. For years now, I have looked for ways to cut down on the unhealthy aspects of recipes and still maintain a safe end product. That has been made easier with options like no-sugar and low-sugar pectin. I make less jarred pickles and opt for refrigerated versions that are not so dependent on high salinity. The biggest fun for me has been to venture into new areas of sauces, chutneys, marmalades and jams that I never would have thought of when I was younger.

Just like my cooking, I am always exploring different flavors and spices. Condiments are an excellent opportunity to add a pop of intense flavors to an otherwise mundane meal. I let different ethnic cuisines inspire me but occasionally it's just a "wild hair". So far this summer, I cooked up a carrot-ginger catsup (which I am nuts for), a carrot pineapple marmalade with no refined sugar, and a blackberry rosemary jam. I also made my own tomato catsup but played with the flavors and heat (spice) to create a little more grown up version of catsup. Fresh and jarred salsas are another favorite of but so far, we eat them as fast as I can make them. That is just the beginning because I am getting in to the thick of it now. I am determined to make some bread and butter pickles without adding refined sugar. That is one of the next projects I am looking forward to. I have made the decision not to share canning recipes for now, due to the potential risks. I am mostly sharing the ideas of what I am creating to stimulate ideas in others. Just make sure that you research proper canning techniques and will they work with your creation. Let your imagination go crazy.

So let me drag us back in to reality for just a little minute...this is really hard work. Just picture a kitchen that has every inch taken over by this enterprise, buckets of produce waiting to be cleaned,trimmed, and prepped, steaming pots on the stove in the middle of August, and the look on the family's faces as they wonder if they get any dinner that night. Finally, the last batch is done- you've cleaned up and you finally sit your sweaty, aching body down in the living room and claim what little is left of your day. And, as you sit and unwind from your grueling day, you hear the quiet little "pop"..."pop" "pop"....."pop" coming from the kitchen. Ahhhh...pure satisfaction!