Bluebarb Jam

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Doesn’t the word “bluebarb” make you smile? Say it out loud. You’re grinning, aren’t you? Your smile will be even bigger if you make this wonderful blueberry rhubarb jam.

Rhubarb is one of those odd fruits that I don’t use much. It’s hard to find here and it looks like some strange, mutant variety of red of celery. By itself, it is too tart to eat, but combined with other fruits, it gives a very pleasant, fresh tartness that cuts through the sweetness of ripe berries. Strawberry-rhubarb is a more common combination, but I had some fresh blueberries from a late week run to the farmer’s market, so I thought, why not??? Blueberries are pretty sweet on their own, which is why I love them paired with lemon. So why not rhubarb?

This jam is sweet and a bit tart, and the rhubarb seems to really bring out a nice flavor to the blueberries. I will definitely do this again! This recipe is from Pomona’s Universal Pectin.

Bluebarb Jam (makes 4 half pints)

  • 2 cups, washed and chopped rhubarb
  • 2 cups fresh, organic or pesticide-free blueberries
  • 1/4 cup bottled lemon juice**
  • 1 cup organic cane sugar or local honey (if you use honey, use 3/4 cup)
  • 2 teaspoons calcium water (comes with the pectin)
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons Pomona’s Universal Pectin
  1. Fill a canning pot with water, insert the rack and add 4 half pint canning jars. Heat over high heat to boiling, then turn off heat and let sit until you are ready.
  2. Add chopped rhubarb to a stock pot with a little water and heat over medium, stirring frequently. Cook until soft.
  3. Add blueberries and cook 1-2 minutes. Mash berries with a potato masher and continue cooking.
  4. Add lemon juice and calcium water and stir.
  5. In a small bowl, combine the sugar and pectin. Slowly stir the sugar into the berry mixture. Bring to a boil. Turn off heat and let berry mixture sit for 5 minutes.
  6. Remove jars from the canning pot (carefully!) and set them on a clean tea towel. Put the jar lids into a bowl and pour some of the hot water over them to cover.
  7. Carefully ladle jam into the hot jars, leaving 1/4″ of headspace. Add lids and bands, just tighten bands to finger tightness.
    Return the filled jars to the canning pot, cover pot, and heat over high to boiling. Boil for 10 minutes. Turn off heat, remove cover And let sit for 5 minutes.
  8. Remove jars from the hot water bath and let sit  undisturbed for 24 hours. Check seals and store in a cool, dry place for up to 1 year.

**You can use fresh lemon juice, but because bottled juice is more consistent in its acid content, the bottled stuff may be more reliable.

Simple Strawberry Jam

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I am not a fruit jelly person.

Fruit jellies are those lovely, clear, sparkling creations prized for their lack of seeds or fruit pulp. They take time, patience and (to me) they are a bit fussy. Give me a hearty, rustic jam with chunks of tender fruit to spread all over my morning toast any day. Homemade jam reminds me of sticky, jam kisses from your children. And lazy, summer mornings. And one of my favorite children’s books, Jamberry by Bruce Degan.

By next week, we will have blueberries…

One berry, two berry, pick me a blueberry
Hatberry, shoeberry, in my canoeberry

But right now, we have strawberries…

Three berry
Four berry
Hayberry
Strawberry
Finger and pawberry
My berry, your berry

So this weekend, I made strawberry jam, thick with pieces of strawberry and absolutely, berry delicious. This recipe is a slight derivation from a recipe in Sherry Brooks Vinton’s book Put ‘Em Up. Just slight though. I use a stick blender to really mash up the berries and I also add 1 tablespoon of organic, unsalted butter to the cooking berries. I seem to have a problem with strawberries producing a lot of foam and the butter is a Ball recipe suggestion for reducing foam (it works!).

And if I haven’t said it enough, the Put ‘Em Up canning/food preservation book is really the best one I have. It is the only one that is thoroughly sticky, splattered, dog-eared and well-loved. For the record, I get nothing for saying that, just the satisfaction of sharing with you something I appreciate.

Got strawberries? Go make this jam!

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Strawberry Jam (makes 6-7 half pints)

  • 8 cups of organic strawberries, rinsed and hulled (tops taken off)
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted, organic butter
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons Pomona’s Universal Pectin
  • 2 teaspoons calcium water (included in the Pomona’s packet)
  1. Cut the cleaned and hulled berries into quarters (or into halves if the are small). Put cut berries into a non-reactive stock pot.
  2. Mash the berries with a potato masher, then blend together with a stick blender for about 1 minute.
  3. Mix the sugar and pectin together in a bowl.
  4. Fill your canning pot with water and add the rack and your jars. Heat over high heat and bring to a rolling boil. Put lids in a bowl and set aside.
  5. While you wait for the canning pot to heat, bring the berries and the butter to a boil over medium high heat, and stir to make sure they don’t burn.
  6. Stir in the calcium water and lemon juice. Then, add the sugar and pectin mixture, stirring to prevent lumps.
  7. Return the berry mixture to a boil, heating through. The mixture should be thick and coat the back of a spoon. Remove pot from the heat and let sit for 5 minutes. Skim off any foam.
  8. Turn the heat off of the canning pot. Remove hot jars from the canning pot CAREFULLY and empty the hot water inside the jars back into the canning pot. Put some of the hot water in the bowl with the jar lids. You want to cover them in the very hot water.
  9. Fill the hot jars with the hot berries, leaving 1/4″ of headspace. We use our trusty blue canning funnel. Use a spatula or the gadget that comes with your canning kit to remove any excess air in the jars.
  10. Wipe jar rims with a clean paper towel, take the lids from the hot water and top each jar with a lid. Screw on bands just to finger tightness (don’t over tighten).
  11. Add the jars back to the canning pot, add the cover, and bring water to a boil for 10 minutes.
  12. Cut off the heat, remove the pot lid and let jars sit for 5 minutes.
  13. Remove jars from the canning pot and do not tilt them! I use a clean tea towel to dab excess water off the jars, but keep them straight.
  14. Let the jars sit I disturbed for 24 hours. Check seals and store all sealed jars in a cool, dark place for up to 1 year.

Note: If you have any extra jam that doesn’t quite fill a jar, you can ladle it into a jar or cup and refrigerate it for up to 3 weeks!

This is the basic technique that applies to all berry jam making. The proportion of acid and pectin may change, but if you can do this, you will be able to can almost anything! Ready? Give it a go!

Raspberry, jazzberry, razzamatazzberry,
Berry land, merryland, jamming in berryland

Tips for Preserving and Canning Berries

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Strawberries are so delicious and plentiful here in North Carolina right now that it seems hard to believe in a few short weeks they will be gone. Once you have fresh, local berries, it is hard to buy imported berries at the grocery store. They do not have the soft texture and robust flavor that locally picked berries have, and their carbon footprint is often pretty horrible. And Ka-ching! They can be very expensive. So my mission is not only to eat local, but to put up what we can so in November, we will have local fruit and vegetables without any fuss!

With a little planning and a little work, you can store away fresh fruit and vegetables at the peak of season so you aren’t tempted by those inferior berries (or tomatoes or corn or peas) later in the year. Here are three easy ways to save your strawberries! These techniques work for other berries as well.

Dehydrate them–You can do this in the oven if you don’t have a dehydrator. This is not difficult, but does take time and patience.

Freeze them–Wash, dry and hull strawberries. Cut them in half and put them on a parchment-lined baking sheet(s). Pop the baking sheet(s) in the freezer for about 90 minutes. Then, load the frozen strawberry halves into freezer bags and store in the freezer. You can also just pop the berries in freezer bags and skip the baking sheet technique, but in my experience, you end up with a frozen blob of berries that are all stuck together. When you freeze the berries individually, you can just use what you need instead of defrosting the whole bag.

Can them–Making jam is very, very easy and you don’t need a lot of equipment. You can make freezer jam (there are many recipes online), but beware! Freezer jam uses a LOT of sugar. I find it is too sweet for me to eat and, to me, the sugar actually dulls the flavor of the berries. But that’s me–you do what you want.

I know canning can seem intimidating. My own first attempts to make strawberry jam were not as successful as later batches, but we had fun learning. Most mistakes can still be useful–jam that doesn’t gel (or “set”) can be called “ice cream/pancake topping” or used to fill a layer cake or used in muffin mix to make fruit muffins. So, no big loss, just a new marketing strategy 🙂

Here are some tips I’ve learned if you are interested in making fruit jam or canning vegetables:

  1. Invest in a modest amount of equipment. Having the right equipment will make your job easier and quicker. You do NOT need an $100.00 “water bath canner” or a $265 hammered copper jam pan from a high end kitchen store (seriously, Williams Sonoma?). You DO need a large pot, a canning rack to fit in the pot, a jar lifter to safely remove your jars from hot water and canning jars with lids and rings. Can you use your kitchen tongs to move your jars instead of a jar lifter? Yes and no. Take it from me, that accidentally dropping a jar back into a pot of hot water is not pleasant. Buy the jar lifter. Canning kits are available that include everything except the jars at places like Wal-Mart for under $30, and will provide you with years of use. If you really want the fancy copper jam pan, then by all means, get it, but that is for you, not the jam 🙂
  2. Use only tested, FDA-approved recipes. This part is not funny. Successful canning means having the right balance of produce and acid, that is heated to the proper temperature to keep bacteria from growing. You cannot make up your own canning recipes without risking the health of anyone eating what you produce. Using tested recipes (and following those recipes) ensures that all your hard work will result in something that is not only delicious and healthy, but is safe to eat. My absolute favorite food preservation book is Put ‘Em Up! by Sherri Brooks Vinton. She has a new book out this spring that is just for fruit and I need to get a copy. The original is wonderful! Chock full of creative, tested recipes for fruits and vegetables, the book includes tips for drying and freezing foods as well as canning. One of the things I love is that her jam recipes are low sugar, which I prefer. Some jam recipes will outright shock you with the amount of sugar they require.
  3. Buy fruit at the peak of season. If your strawberries don’t taste good to you out of the bucket, they won’t taste good to you in a jam either.
  4. Buy organic or pesticide-free fruit when possible. I know, I know, it’s expensive. But, when you’re concentrating fruit down into a jam (or dehydrating it), you are also concentrating any pesticides or toxins on your fruit as well. And that is not a good thing, especially if you are pregnant or if you have little folks eating your jam. If you can’t find organic or pesticide-free fruit, make sure you are washing it well to remove as much surface toxins as you can.
  5. Have fun! I’ve found that yes, canning requires some work and some hot days in the kitchen. But, it is also a lot of fun and pretty cool, too. In the past year, we haven’t purchased any grocery store jam, salsa, barbecue sauce, pickles or tomato sauce–we just shop from our own pantry!

Tomorrow–Strawberry Jam!

Pickled Asparagus

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Fresh, local asparagus was the start of our pickled asparagus with mustard seed!

Last year, I added asparagus to my list of controversial subjects. So far, they include politics, religion, college basketball and cobbler. And now asparagus.

If you’ve been reading along with us for a while, you know that Ellie and I took a canning class so we can continue to eat some of our favorite local foods all year. Actually, we now have a three-pronged approach to food preservation–canning, freezing and drying. We’re looking at what is available at the market each week and considering whether or not we enjoy it enough to try preserving it for the bleak winter months. It’s fun to seek out new recipes to try–dried fruit leather was a big hit. One of the recipes that piqued our interest is pickled asparagus with mustard seed. We love asparagus. We love pickles. So, what’s not to love about pickled asparagus?  I’m all about trying the DIY version, although local asparagus is fairly pricey at $6/pound.

I couldn’t decide whether this sounded really good or just really odd, so I posted an inquiry to my Facebook page asking the question: “Pickled asparagus. Good? Gross?” The overwhelming judgement was “gross.” Or at least “why?” as in “why would do that to a perfectly good asparagus?” A few people commented on texture issues with asparagus–would they be mushy? Ellie The Brave was all about it though, so we forged ahead. I picked up asparagus at the farmer’s market and apple cider vinegar at the grocery store and we got started. This recipe uses quite a bit of garlic, which made the kitchen smell great. I managed to get over my fear of canning garlic, which seems to be strongly connected to botulism if not done properly.

The end result was some semi-attractive jars, although not as perfect looking as the grocery store variety. I was concerned about stuffing too much asparagus in the pint jars, but in hindsight, the hot water bath cooked them slightly and they shrunk up a bit, so next time I will pack the jars pretty full.

How do they taste? Actually, very good! The asparagus are tender and not crisp like a true pickle, but also not mushy like asparagus from a can. The brine is good–tart, but with good seasoning from the mustard, garlic and pepper. They will be good with salad or even with deviled eggs. The garlic  helps to balance the vinegar and give the pickles a nice savory flavor. If you like asparagus and want to keep it around past asparagus season, this might be something to try (you can also blanch them and freeze them). This recipe is from “Put ‘Em Up” by Sherri Brooks Vinton. If you are interested in canning, I highly recommend this book–it is by far my favorite canning book and my constant “go-to” book for delicious and unusual canning recipes.

Pickled Asparagus with Mustard Seed (makes about 3 pints)

  • 4 lbs. asparagus, washed and dried
  • 4 cups cider vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/4 cup salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 4 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon celery seed
  • 1 tablespoon mustard seed
  • 1 teaspoon peppercorn
  1. Trim the asparagus to lengths 1 inch shorter than your pint jars and pack vertically into the clean, hot jars.
  2. Combine the vinegar, water, salt and sugar in a medium nonreactive saucepan. Bring the brine to a low boil, stirring to dissolve the salt and sugar, and then remove from the heat. Divide the garlic, celery seed, mustard seed, and peppercorns among the jars. Pour the hot brine over the asparagus to cover by 1/2 inch. Leave 1/2 inch of head space between the top of the liquid and the lid.
  3. Use the boiling water method. Release the trapped air from the jars. Wipe the rims clean; center lids on the jars and screw on jar bands. Process for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat, remove canner lid and let jars rest in the water for 5 minutes. Remove jars and set aside for 24 hours. Check seals, then store in a cool, dark place for up to 1 year.

Preserving Strawberries

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I love strawberries. Love, love, love them. Strawberries and asparagus are my two harbingers of spring. When you see them at the farmer’s markets, winter is over fo’ sho’. Like many of the most precious things in life, strawberries are fragile and temporary. Fresh strawberries are so far superior to their hard, dry grocery cousins that I will usually forego buying strawberries at the grocery and instead, wait until I can eat them to my heart’s content, fresh from the fields. But if you are eating (mostly) local as we are, how do you continue the strawberry love all year? There are lots of ways to preserve your berries so you have some wonderful flavor all winter long. Canning preserves, of course, is a great option, but don’t forget freezing and drying as well!

Your freezer is probably your most overlooked ally in reducing food waste and stalling the effects of time on your precious berries. Last year, we purchased a second freezer and we used it all summer to pack away berries, peaches, tomatoes, figs, corn, beans, okra–pretty much anything that was plentiful and at the peak of the season. Our freezer is running low now, but we’ve had a winter’s worth of wonderful meals and we’re getting ready to stock it up once again! With strawberries, you can make freezer jam or just freeze the whole berries for use later.

One of our favorite restaurants, Lucky 32, has a great Farm-to-Fork blog about preserving strawberries HERE. Check it out! I’m definitely trying the vinegar idea this year–not only does it sound delicious, it uses up those bruised berries that sometimes get put in the compost (well, not in our house–they usually end up in my mouth).

Here are some other ideas and resources:

Put ‘Em Up and Put ‘Em Up Fruit by Sherri Brooks Vinton

Put ‘Em Up was my canning and preserving bible last summer. My copy is so dog-eared, stained and sticky that it’s a surprise I can still turn the pages. One aspect I really like is that her jam recipes use Pomona’s Universal Pectin, which is a bit more expensive, but allows you to decrease the amount of sugar you use without compromising the texture of the jam. I just ordered her new fruit book and can’t wait to try the recipes. Strawberries are so fresh and sweet, why mess them up with more sugar than needed? I love this book so much more than the Ball canning books because the recipes are creative and absolutely spot on with measurements. Also, she includes other preserving methods, such as drying and freezing, so if you don’t can, you can still find lots of useful ideas.

Consider buying a dehydrator. This is my summer project. Have you ever had dried strawberries??? Holy moly! They are amazing and last a good long while. Wonderful on cereal, in granola or just as a snack–nature’s candy, indeed! You can dry strawberries in your oven as well–just takes a little more attention on your part, but completely do-able!

Make fruit leather. Once you make homemade fruit leather, you will never touch that pre-packaged stuff from the grocery again. And you kids probably won’t want to either. We made homemade strawberry fruit leather last spring (read about it HERE)and we all agreed it was so strawberry-delicious that we needed to make more. Immediately. Except then, we ate all our strawberries. Oh, well, we will try again this year!

I’ll be sharing more of our berry recipes as we head into high season! I just need to remember to sock some away for November and December, when we are feeling deprived of fresh berries!

Roasted Tomato Sauce

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One of my Girl Scouts keeps joking that she needs to bring her Staples Easy Button when we’re working on projects. Wouldn’t it be nice to really have an easy button when things get difficult? Well, I’m going to give you an easy button right now, although you’ll have to wait until summer to use it. This is by far the best–and easiest–tomato sauce I have ever made. I froze quarts and quarts of this over the summer and we have been enjoying it all winter long. It is so thick that it looks like a Bolognese sauce, but it has no meat at all. in fact, it only has four ingredient: tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and salt. See? Easy!

While working on my canning over the summer, I also canned some marinara sauce. This took for.ever. I cooked my tomatoes down for hours and hours, but my sauce still ended up thin. No worries though, because it is now called “tomato soup” 🙂 Nothing that a little spin couldn’t cure!

After that experience, I almost gave up canning my own sauce. Then I tried this recipe for a roasted tomato sauce. Just roast, purée and freeze. Howeasyisthat? And it is so good that I could (and have) eaten it plain in a bowl.

Roasted Tomato Sauce (makes about 1 quart per 5 lbs of tomatoes)

Romas are best for this sauce as they have less water, but any tomato will do–you will need to adjust your roasting time for very juicy tomatoes!

  • Any amount of tomatoes (I have been roasting 2-5 lbs. at a time)
  • 2-4 garlic cloves, sliced thin or minced
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  1. Wash and trim tomatoes, and cut into halves (romas) or quarters (for larger tomatoes).
  2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line one or more baking sheets with foil.
  3. Put tomato pieces on a foil lined baking sheet (I use 2 sheets at a time).
  4. Sprinkle garlic pieces and salt over tomatoes.
  5. Drizzle olive oil over the tomatoes.
  6. Put baking sheet in the oven and roast tomatoes for about 2 hours. Check on them periodically and stir them around a bit.
  7. Roast tomatoes until the liquid has evaporated and the tomatoes are a bit charred and shriveled.
  8. Put all tomatoes and garlic pieces in a bowl.
  9. Use an immersion stick blender and puree the tomatoes until they are to your liking. I like mine fairly chunky, but you can make this as smooth as you like.
  10. Store in freezer safe containers in the freezer for up to 6 months.
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Roasted tomato sauce with pasta and turkey meatballs!

Charred Pepper Barbecue Sauce and Crock Pot Pulled Pork

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Spicy, hot and a little bit sweet! Just the way I like it!

I love barbecue sauce, but I’m not all about the super sugary bottled sauce in the grocery store. Some of them are so over-flavored that you can’t taste what you’re putting the sauce on. And when I’m buying a most delicious Boston butt from Mae Farm, I want to taste the pork as much as the sauce! We loooooove our Mae Farm meats! So this summer I experimented with making and canning some summer goodness in the form of homemade barbecue sauce. We just broke open our first jar (how did it take us so long???) and it is really quite good! A little sweet, spicy hot and rich with allspice and cloves, this barbecue sauce has a deep, rich taste, but it allows the flavor of your food to come through.

Here is a super tip on peeling tomatoes. Freeze whole tomatoes the night before you make your sauce. Run the frozen tomatoes under warm water and the skins will slip off! Totally easier than blanching!

This recipe is adapted from my all-time favorite canning recipe book, Put ‘Em Up by Sherri Brooks Vinton (order it HERE).

Charred Pepper Barbecue Sauce (makes about 4 pints)

  • 1 lb. fresh chili peppers (note: red colored peppers will make a more pleasing colored sauce)
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 5 lbs. ripe tomatoes
  • 1 lb. yellow onions, peeled and chopped
  • 2 cups organic brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 1 1/2 cups cider vinegar
  • 2 organic garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 1 tbsp. ground allspice
  • 1 tbsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. ground cloves
  1. Preheat an outdoor grill. Toss the peppers with olive oil. Place chili peppers on the hot grill and roast, turning often so that the skins are charred. This will take about 5-6 minutes, depending on the size of your peppers.
  2. Remove peppers from the grill and put in a paper bag or in a bowl. Close up the bag or cover the bol with plastic wrap. Wait 5 minutes or until peppers have cooled enough to handle. Wearing latex gloves or bare handed (be careful!), peel the outer skin off each pepper. Discard the skin and reserve the peppers in a bowl. If you don’t want your sauce to be spicy hot, discard the pepper seeds as well. Set peppers aside.
  3. Peel, core and chop the tomatoes and set aside.
  4. Combine the all ingredients in a large, nonreactive saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil. Remove cover, reduce the heat to medium low and simmer for 2 hours until the sauce is thickened.
  5. Puree with an immersion blender until smooth.
  6. Refrigerate sauce for up to 3 weeks or can using the hot water bath method. Ladle sauce into clean, hot pint jars, leaving 1/4 inch of headspace. Release any trapped air and wipe the rims clean with a damp paper towel. Center clean lids on jars and screw on jar bands. Process in a boiling bath for 20 minutes. Turn off heat, remove canner lid and let jars rest for 5 minutes. Remove jars and set aside for 24 hours. Check seals, then store in a cool, dark place for up to 1 year.

Crock Pot Pulled Pork (serves 6-8)

  • 1 pasture-raised, hormone free Boston butt pork roast
  • 1 pint Roasted Chili Barbecue Sauce
  1. Put the pork roast in the bowl of a slow cooker. Cover with sauce. Cook on low for 6-8 hours or high for 4 hours.
  2. Remove roast from the slow cooker and place on a cutting board. Pull pork apart into shreds using two forks.
  3. Skim any fat off the sauce in the slow cooker. Return pork to the sauce, toss well.
  4. Serve the shredded pork on buns, in quesadillas, on nachos, on pizza or just by itself!

Food Preservation and the Mason Jar

New Mexico. Mrs. Fidel Romero Proudly Exhibits...

My craft room almost looks like this!

I discovered canning last spring and had all the zeal of the newly converted. I canned a lot. I mean a LOT! Jam, jelly, salsa, many varieties of pickles, tomato sauce, preserves, ketchup and even barbecue sauce. I’ll be posting some of my favorite recipes soon because in no time flat we will be back in strawberry season. Can I get a hallelujah?

One aspect of all this canning is the accumulation of jars and rings as we eat through what we put up so many months ago. I know we will reuse the jars this season, but really, the Mason jar is just a darn convenient invention. I’ve been looking for inexpensive upcycling ideas to use with our Girl Scout troop and came across this article. Check it out. If you’re snowed in thanks to NEMO and need a few fun craft projects, this will get you started!

Click HERE!

Get ready for some canning ideas and recipes! What is your favorite food to can?

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