Preserving Cranberries 3 Ways

So let’s continue in our “3 Ways” series and try our hand at preserving cranberries!  Unlike most berries that ripen in late spring or early summer, cranberries don’t come into season til late fall, generally between Thanksgiving and Christmas; that’s why the ubiquitous cranberry jelly is a must have on most everyone’s holiday table.  Like other fruits, cranberries are a high-acid food which makes preserving them a breeze and allows for a good bit of variation.  As always, when preserving cranberries or any other fruit, stick to tried recipes, safe canning techniques, even if your granny did it differently.  Today, we’re going to can fresh cranberries in a heavy syrup, can cranberry sauce and make cranberry fruit leathers.  Start your clocks, friends, because this is going to be finished and on the pantry shelves in no time!

Okay, first up, preserving cranberries in a heavy syrup.

Wash and stem your berries, then boil them in a heavy syrup for 3 minutes.  Pack the hot cranberries into pint or quart jars and cover them with the boiling heavy syrup, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace.  Cap the jars with 2-piece lids and then process in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes or as indicated in the instructions here.  That’s it.  Isn’t that crazy easy?!  Now to mix things up, you can add some delicious flavors such as cinnamon, vanilla, orange zest or use brown sugar in lieu of white sugar in the syrup.  Just be sure to use the same ratios and don’t add low-acid ingredients such as nuts or onions to the recipe.  I don’t know why you’d add onions to cranberries, but I just want to put that out there.

There's nothing as simple or delicious as preserving cranberries!

 

Alright, canned cranberries are done, so let’s move on to cranberry sauce.  I don’t know about your house, but cranberry sauce HAS to be on the table for the holidays.  Even if no one eats it, it has to be there.  Because.  So to make the thick, jelled cranberry sauce, you simmer 4 cups of cranberries in 1 cup of water til they soften and begin to burst.  Carefully put the hot berries through a sieve or food mill to achieve the desired texture.  Return the berries to the pan and add 2 cups of sugar, boil for 3 minutes, then ladle into hot jars, cap and process in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes.  If you’d rather have whole berry sauce, simply omit the sieve step and carry on with the sugar and boiling.  Complete instructions can be found here!  Again, in this instance, it’s perfectly acceptable to add a small amount of spice such as ginger or orange zest to your cranberry sauce.

2 products down, 1 to go!  You’ll not find cranberry fruit leathers at the grocery store, but they are so delicious!  Sweet, tart, chewy and they make a great dessert after a heavy meal.  To make fruit leathers, use a portion of the cranberry sauce you just made and pour onto a baking pan or dehydrator drying sheet lined with plastic wrap or parchment paper.  You need to spread the sauce out til it’s approximately 1/8 of an inch thick and even throughout the pan to prevent under/overdehydrating.  Dehydrate at 140 degrees til the sauce is pliable but not squishy anywhere; this could take anywhere from 6-12 hours, so keep checking.  When it’s finished, cut into strips and store in the fridge or freezer in plastic containers.  You can find this recipe and others at the Home Preserving Bible.

If you love preserving cranberries as much as I do, don’t stop there!  Cranberries can be dehydrated, frozen, candied, pickled, made into salsa, chutney, jam, mustard, and about a hundred other possibilities.  So when you see cranberries on sale for $.50/bag in the next few weeks, grab 10 of them and get them preserved and in your pantry!  Til next time!

http://simplelifemom.com/2017/10/17/homestead-blog-hop-157/

 

Dehydrating Fresh Mint

With only a few more weeks left in the Ohio growing season, I’m scrambling to put up anything that’s left in our garden and right now, the mint patch outside the kitchen door is thriving!  While it can and will grow in almost any soil and conditions, it’s LOVING this cooler, damp weather and has probably doubled in size in the past month.  Now mint isn’t MY favorite herb, but my sweet Petunia loves a hot mug of mint tea just before bedtime, so I’m running the dehydrator overtime trying to dry as much “tea” as possible before the first hard freeze.

If you’ve never grown mint before, you need to know that it’s a bit of a mixed blessing.  As I stated, it can and will grow anywhere—-and it has no respect for boundaries!  Mint roots run horizontally just under the surface of the soil and will take over a bed in no time if you don’t contain it somehow.  When I planted mint this spring, I took an old galvanized bucket with the bottom missing, dug a hole large enough to accommodate the bucket and deep enough that the lip of the bucket protruded aboveground just a few inches.  I planted the mint inside the bucket and based on this year’s results, it’s quite happy there.  The bucket will provide adequate room to grow but will prevent the roots from spreading laterally and taking over the entire bed.  Clever, eh?  But back to tea….

Dehydrating mint is about the easiest thing ever.  You simply cut the stems early in the morning, rinse with cool water and then lay singly on your dehydrating screens.  On low heat, dehydrate the mint for several days until the leaves are quite papery, then carefully strip them from the stems and place them in an air-tight container.  Try to avoid crushing the leaves if you can as that releases those wonderful, volatile oils and aromas—-you want those in your tea cup, not the air!

When it comes time to make your tea, simply crush approximately a teaspoon of the tea leaves into an infuser like this one (FORLIFE Brew-in-Mug Extra-Fine Tea Infuser with Lid), allow to steep for up to 5 minutes, then remove the leaves and sweeten with a bit of honey.  It’s equally delicious served iced with a handful of fresh raspberries, watermelon cubes or lemon slices.  You can also sprinkle a bit of the dehydrated mint into a fresh fruit salad for an extra layer of flavor.  The mint will impart a freshness and ‘brightness’ to any dish you add it to, so be creative and think outside the tea cup!

 

 

 

Preserving Seasonal Fruits

Preserving fruits is one of my favorite kitchen hobbies.  When it comes to home-canning, so much of what you do is an *exact* science.  Green beans HAVE to be processed for a certain amount of time at a specific pressure point.  Corn too.  Quick pickles HAVE to be brined with a certain percentage of salt or vinegar.  Tomatoes also fall into that category.  There is no guess work and no room for experimentation with veggies and low acid foods.  Fruits, on the other hand, allow for much more creativity.  Now that doesn’t mean you can play fast and loose with safety issues, like cleanliness, proper canning technique, etc, but beyond that, the possibilities are endless.  Let’s talk about the different means of preserving fruit and the flexibility within those methods.

By far, the most common method for preserving fruit is simply canning it.  It involves bringing fresh fruit to a boil in either a simple syrup or fruit juice (such as pineapple juice), pouring it into a Mason jar, capping it with a screw-on lid and processing it in a boiling water bath for a short period of time.  The natural acid in the fruit combined with the preservative qualities of the sugar results in a pleasantly sweet, brilliantly colored fruit that is delicious straight from the jar, baked into a pie, or topping ice cream or cake.  Berries, apples, peaches, pears, plums all taste amazing when preserved by this technique.   Each fall,  I put up a bushel of apples in a sweet, cinnamon-y syrup for wintertime breakfasts;  warmed and topped with some cream and served alongside a fresh biscuit or as a topping for pancakes, waffles or French toast, canned apple slices can’t be beat.   Here’s an example for you to follow.

Jellying or jamming is also a delicious means of preserving fruit to last through the year.  Only slightly more difficult than straight canning, you simply bring fruit to a boil, adding precise quantities of sugar and either commercial pectin or bitter fruit as a thickener.  Everyone loves the ubiquitous pb&j using Concord grape jelly, but the possibilities are nearly endless here!  From spiced tomato jam to corncob jelly there’s almost no food you can’t jam or jelly.  There ARE some exceptions to that rule and it’s important that you use tried and true recipes, but you can find reliable information as well as proven recipes at the National Center for Home Food Preservation.  Think of their files as the Holy Grail of canning.

Candying is another favorite fruit preservation for us!  The concept is simple and ages old:  you soak fresh fruit pieces in heavy syrup until the fruit’s moisture is removed and replaced by sugar.  You can pretty much candy *anything* though we particularly enjoy candied orange slices, pumpkin cubes and ginger pieces.  And as a total bonus, the fruit flavors the heavy syrup, so after you’ve candied the fruit, you’re left with a delicious fruity-sweet syrup that you can use on pancakes, in drinks or any number of uses.  Love those bonuses!  Here’s a recipe from Martha Stewart for making candied citrus peels–for a real treat, dip them in dark chocolate!!

If you have a dehydrator, drying fruit is so incredibly simple!  Most fruit requires nothing more than being sliced, dipped in salt water or lemon water (to preserve color) and dried for 1-2 days on a med-low setting.  My great-granny in eastern Kentucky used old window screens covered in cheese cloth in an enclosed porch to dry apple slices and oh-my-word, were they ever delicious!  I was always so excited to go see her—to see if I was finally taller than she was and to come home with a big old bag of dried apple slices!  Here’s a link that provides ideas, recipes and guidelines for you.  Dried fruit is one of the children’s favorite lunchbox treats and I feel good offering it to them because there’s so many vitamins packed into those little sweet packages!preserving fruits

But fruit preservation doesn’t stop there!    Fresh seasonal fruit can be preserved in brandy or other spirits, fermented with honey, frozen, pickled, made into cider, wine or vinegar….the options are really endless with fruit and for the most part, your imagination is the only limit.  Try your favorite combination of berries for a triple berry jam.  Or mix your favorite stone fruits with brandy for a delicious cake topping.  Puree and dehydrate apples for fruit leathers.

What is your favorite tried and true way to preserve summer’s bounty?

 

 

Stocking The Deep Larder – Or- Food Storage For Real People

Food storage as it used to be.

I want to talk to you pretty frankly about building a “deep larder”, or food storage, as it’s more commonly referred to in farming and homesteading circles today.  I’ve only touched on this topic a time or two because of the stereotypes that go along with it.  I’ll confess that when I hear the phrase “food storage”, I automatically picture some paranoid, anti-social survivalist with camo clothes, a painted face and year’s worth of freeze-dried MREs hiding out in a bunker. Not a pretty sight.

But THAT shouldn’t be our impression of food storage at all. My sweet little Granny in eastern Kentucky practiced storing basic food long before survivalists and conspiracy theorists hijacked it in the Y2K era. She grew her garden, preserved the harvest and kept basic, bulk supplies in the summer kitchen, just feet from the back door.  She used to tell stories of leaving her summer kitchen door unlocked at night during the Great Depression for her neighbors who didn’t plan ahead and were starving but were too proud to ask for help. She said they never took more than they needed and always returned her clean Mason jars to the back porch. My granny survived 2 World Wars, rationing, joblessness and the Depression by practicing what people had practiced for eons before her: planning ahead during times of abundance for when the times of shortage came.

A generation or two farther back in time, Laura Ingalls’ family was practicing the same useful skill of storing food for lean times.

The garden behind the little house had been growing all summer. It was so near the house that the deer did not jump the fence and eat the vegetables in the daytime, and at night Jack kept them away. Sometimes in the morning there were little hoof-prints among the carrots and the cabbages. But Jack’s tracks were there, too, and the deer had jumped right out again.

Now the potatoes and carrots, the beets and turnips and cabbages were gathered and stored in the cellar, for freezing nights had come.

Onions were made into long ropes, braided together by their tops, and then were hung in the attic beside wreaths of red peppers strung on threads. The pumpkins and the squashes were piled in orange and yellow and green heaps in the attic’s corners.

The barrels of salted fish were in the pantry, and yellow cheeses were stacked on the pantry shelves.

– Little House In The Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1932

That changed abruptly in Post-WWII America with the advent of the supermarket.  Suddenly, the food disappeared from cellars, pantries, summer kitchens and backyard gardens.  As highways began to criss-cross America and refrigeration became more affordable and obtainable, families no longer depended on their larder/food storage.   Now, it’s unusual to find more than a few day’s worth of food in any given house on any given day.  Friends, I believe that needs to change.  While I’m very thankful for the prosperity that America has enjoyed for decades, we can’t allow prosperity to lull us into a sense of complacency.

I don’t consider myself a conspiracy theorist, but I know things happen.  Blizzards.  Job loss.  Power outages.  Divorce.  Hacked bank accounts.  Things happen.  Back in September of 2008, Ohio was side-swiped by the remnants of Hurricane Ike.  Ohio.  Experiencing a hurricane.  Go figure.  We anticipated a good soaking rainfall, but what no one saw coming was the Category 1 winds that knocked out power to millions in our area.  For nearly a week, we were without lights, hot water, communication or utilities.  Roads were blocked by fallen trees.  Grocery stores were closed.  ATMs were out of order.  And because we were in a very rural area, we were very low on the list of priorities.   Let me tell you, it was quite the rough week and a pantry full of canned soups, veggies and meats sure came in handy.  Beyond Hurricane Ike, having a stocked larder has proved invaluable to my family during extended lay-offs, extreme winter weather, feeding unexpected guests and as a means to bless others experiencing hardship.  I believe whole-heartedly that a well-stocked larder should be a priority to us just as it has been in generations past.

Let me just pause here and say that I don’t want you to pursue a deep larder out of a sense of fear, but of prudence.  I’ve seen so many sites that use fear to prompt huge, unnecessary purchases and that’s not at all what I want for you.  I want you to think ahead like our grannies did and create a necessary, useful cushion for our families.  The Bible promises us that bad times WILL come and admonishes us to think ahead (Eccl 11:2, Prov 6:6-9, Prov 13:16, Prov 31:21) and be ready for when the good times end.  We need to be like the ant, my friends!

Stocking your larder doesn’t have to be expensive, and it doesn’t have to mean storing MREs and powdered milk, because ~GAG~.  The only hard and fast rule for stocking up is to buy food that you KNOW you will use.   If your family doesn’t eat dried beans, for the love of Mike, don’t buy a 50# bag of dried beans because a survivalist told you to!!  Tailor your pantry to the needs and palates of your family members.   An easy way to begin the process is to spend a week or two journaling what you eat each day and look for trends.  Are there items on your “menu” that you eat consistently and frequently?  THOSE would be  smart purchases.  After you have a rough idea of what your family eats in a typical week, begin the process of stocking up on those familiar items.   Still unsure where to start?  How about:

Canned beans
Canned soups and stews
Canned fruits and veggies
Canned/packaged fish and meats
Oats and grains
Rice
Pasta
Sugar/honey/maple syrup
Salt
Dehydrated fruit
Oil
Flours
Evaporated/condensed/instant/shelf-stable milk  and other fluids such as bottled water, sports drinks and juices.

Most of these foods have a shelf-life of several years, many can be eaten as-is in an emergency, and nearly all cost less than $2, especially if you shop at Aldi or another discount store. It isn’t beyond anyone’s budget to throw an extra box of pasta or a couple cans of soup in the shopping buggy each week. And believe me, those extra packages add up quickly.  If you live in a rural region or close to a farmer’s market, I suggest you take advantage of the fact we’re in peak food-production season and buy fresh, inexpensive produce that you can can, dry, freeze, pickle or otherwise preserve.  That’s a simple way to stock your larder quickly.

I’m hesitant to provide links to food-storage plans because they can be absolutely overwhelming, and while they can provide valuable information, they often use fear to incentivize huge purchases. We don’t want to act out of a spirit of fear, but wisdom—and wisdom would say buying something we can’t afford and won’t eat isn’t wise at all! I found only one article I thought would be helpful—addressing what they called “Home Food Resilience“, or the ability to withstand shocks to our budget, environment or lifestyle. They include suggestions for building a “deep pantry”, as we discussed above, as well as freeze dried “emergency” food. Read it with a grain of salt and see what you can glean from it. And as always, feel free to ask questions!!  Til next time!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Salt Preserved Herbs

Our grandmothers were experts.  They may not have held degrees, but they KNEW how to do stuff and do it well, and food preservation (in all forms) was at the top of that list.  They were able to take a simple, raw material and turn it into something amazing that we are willing to pay a premium for now.  Take for example, infused salt, which is nothing more than common table-salt that has been infused with herbs, minerals or essential oils and used to “finish” elaborate meals.  It’s all the rage among foodies and in fancy restaurants, but it’s something our grandmothers have done for centuries.  As the tagline says, “All things old are new again.”

So there’s a reason our grandmothers used infused salt, and it wasn’t to impress their Bridge clubs or quilting circles: infused salt is the by-product of salt-preserved herbs.   With little to no effort, equipment or electricity, plain old salt will preserve fresh herbs without destroying their flavor or color.  Salt is a natural desiccant, and in absorbing the moisture from the herbs, it also absorbs the flavor, leaving a delicious finishing salt for the table.  As we’re moving quickly toward the end of the growing season and my cupboards are already stocked with dried herbs, I’m going to make a good-sized batch of chive-infused salt, both for cooking and for gift-giving later this year.  It’s seriously the simplest process ever and as it’s a fairly quick project, it appeals to the immediate-gratification Gen X in me!  Here’s what you do:

 

Salt preserved herbs

 

First, you need to start with quality, fresh herbs.  Old, wilted, past-their-prime will work, but quality-in results in quality-out, savvy?  So either cut your own herbs or pick the best quality, fresh herbs you can find at the grocery.  For infused salt, I lean toward what we consider Italian herbs:  oregano, rosemary, chives, basil, parsley but any variety will do.  It’s all a matter of taste preference here.  Beforehand, clean and dry the herbs well.

Next, you need a good quality salt.  Yes, you can use the $.45 box of non-iodized table salt, but if you’re looking for the best results, I prefer Kosher, sea salt or Himalayan.  A finer grind works better than a coarse grind in my opinion, but please experiment and find what you like best!

Last, you need a glass jar with an air-tight lid.  Plastic tends to absorb flavor, so I avoid it and use an old mason jar.

To make preserved herbs and infused salt, you begin by adding a layer of salt11 to the bottom of your jar.  1/4c (or less) of salt12 should work, depending on the size of your container, as you need at least 1/2 inch of salt13 on the bottom of the jar.  Next add a layer of herbs.  Not too thickly because you need the salt14 to be able to ‘reach’ the middle of the layer.  Add another layer of salt, completely covering the herbs.  Repeat til the your container is full, then cap it tightly and sit it in your fridge.  It takes 1-2 weeks for the herbs to dry and infuse the salt15 with wonderful flavor.  Kept refrigerated, salt16-preserved herbs will last well into winter and beyond.  To use the herbs, you simply remove them from the jar, brush off the salt17 and use as if they were fresh.  The salt18 can be used directly from the jar as a finishing salt19.

That’s it, my friends.  There’s your salt-preserved herbs and the accompanying infused salt20.  How easy is that?  And placed in a pretty jar with a label you print at home, infused salt21 makes a beautiful, frugal homemade gift during the holidays.  Give it a try and let me know what you think!  On a personal note, I’d like to welcome my new readers from the Simple Life Mom Blog Hop .  So glad to have you!   Til next time, my new friends–

Dehydrating Produce

While we’re on the topic of food preservation, let’s talk about dehydration for a minute.  Beginning with fresh herbs in May, our dehydrator runs almost non-stop through November, as we dry the last of the orchard apples. Benefits to dehydration: extremely long shelf life, requires very little shelf space, makes quick, nutritious snacks, reduces food waste, adds intense flavor without unnecessary fluid, foods retain fresh “uncooked” flavor….and so many more reasons. Now is the time of the year to find dehydrators cheap at yard sales and excellent prices on food to be dried.  I’ll just give you a quick overview for now and we’ll talk about the specifics later.  There are several ways to go about dehydrating food: in a modern dehydrator, in a low oven, or with screens in a warm, ventilated area.

I’m going to shamelessly plug the modern dehydrator because it’s simplest, quickest and will yield the most dependable results.  Dehydrators range in price from $30 at discount stores to hundreds of dollars for top of the line.  There’s no shame in starting with the $30 version.  It’s missing some of the perks of the “Cadillac” Excalibur-brand dehydrator, but the theory is the same; warm air circulates around food to remove water creating an inhospitable environment for bacteria.  This is my preferred method of dehydrating as it’s practically set-it and forget-it.

My great-grandmother Pearlie used an enclosed porch in her eastern-Kentucky home to dehydrate food.  She’d set up screens (think old window screens) on tables, place the food in single layers and cover with cheesecloth to protect the food from gnats and houseflies.  This was an effective, albeit, time-consuming method that has been used for eons.  All you need is a well-ventilated space, a rack or a screen to allow airflow and some sort of fabric to protect the food from flies.  This method takes the longest and you risk spoilage, particularly during humid, still seasons, but it also requires practically no equipment.

The third method is using an oven on it’s lowest setting for 8-12 hours.  This is the method I’ve had the least success with.  No matter how low I set my oven, inevitably, I end up with scorched food, so I’ll just leave this method alone and you can do your own research.

There are just a couple steps to dehydrate food.

–First, choose the freshest produce available. Rotten fruit will yield rotten results.

–Second, peel (if necessary) and slice or chop to create the highest amount of surface area.   This will allow the produce to dry more quickly and give you more consistent results.

–Third, some many fruits and veggies require a pretreatment to prevent browning and destroy enzymes that could compromise the quality of the dried food. Different foods have different requirements, but typically it’s just a dip in salty or acidic (lemon juice) water or blanching, which is just plunging raw food into boiling water for mere seconds then removing and drying.

–Fourth, put the treated food in single layers in your dehydrator or on screens or racks and process for the prescribed amount of time. The drying time will vary depending on the produce and method used.   Apple slices will take 12-24 hours (in a dehydrator), herbs and leafy greens, mere hours.  When you think the food is thoroughly dry, feel it.  Apples will be firm and leathery, herbs and greens papery, onions and peppers will be hard as little stones.

–To store your dried produce, cool to room temperature and place in an air-tight canister or canning jar. You can also place in sandwich baggies and drop them in the freezer for optimum “shelf” life.

To enjoy the food:  dried fruit can be added to cereals, eaten out of hand or rehydrated with water or juice or stewed.  Veggies can be rehydrated and added to casseroles or thrown dry into soups and stews.  The texture won’t be quite the same as fresh, so plan accordingly.

Here are some links you may find helpful:

http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/dry.html  Very reliable site, lots of how to information as well as recipes. Covers everything from fruit and veggies to seeds and jerky.

http://www.pickyourown.org/dryingfoods.html  Plenty of useful, seasonal information.

http://momwithaprep.com/101-dehydrating-recipes/!   101 recipes to help you use all that delicious dried produce!

Til next time!