Drying chili peppers

Cayenne peppers from my garden now hung up to dry.  I feel so southwest!

Salsa Time!

This weekend I made six pints of salsa with the 15 lbs of tomatoes sitting in my fridge.  Compared to last year, it was so much easier.  I also discovered you don’t really need to follow the Ball Book for the ingredients exactly, as long as you make sure to put in the proper amount vinegar so you don’t die of botulism or anything. 🙂

What I loved about this year is that nearly every single ingredient in my salsa came from my own garden, with the exception of the cilantro (from the farmer’s market) which I think is utterly ridiculous because I’ve never had trouble growing cilantro before, yet this year, my transplants haven’t done well.  But the tomatoes, onions, garlic, peppers were all by my hand, which feels great!

This year I half-followed the Zesty Salsa recipe in the ball book, using 10 cups chopped, seeded and cored tomatoes (not peeled though).  I hate peeling tomatoes, and I really don’t care if my salsa has a little tomato skin in it.  Although most canning recipes say to take off the peels, you can keep them on, they just might look discolored later on. To date, everything looks fine with our salsa, though.

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The majority of the tomatoes we used in this salsa were our purple cherokee, along with a few amish pastes and even some isis candy!

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Throwing 10 cups into the pot, along with 5 cups of chopped onions, 3 cloves of garlic, minced, 3 seeded cayenne peppers, a big bunch of minced cilantro (yummm, I love Cilantro) was all I basically did.  Most recipes don’t call for so much cilantro, but make it essentially how you like it!

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Add 1 1/4 cups of cider vinegar to the pot and heat to boiling, then reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes.

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Ladle into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace, adjust the two-piece caps and process for 15 minutes in a boiling water canner.

And for God’s sake, be careful when seeding your hot peppers.  I swear I washed my hands after doing so but I rubbed my eyes afterwards and was in so much pain!  Later on my eyes teared and the pain began anew! Wear gloves, it’s so much safer that way.

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6 pints of salsa, enough to get us through to next summer 🙂

Canned Peaches

Continuing the theme this week of peaches, last night K and I toiled over a hot stove making canned peaches.  The idea is that we “put up” enough now (along with other fruits) to enjoy our labors all winter long.  We probably won’t have enough to get through the whole year (day jobs make it tough to find the time to do this) but every little bit helps.

To make canned peaches, we started off the same way as with the chutney, washing, draining, and peeling the peaches.  Peeling peaches are so much easier than peeling tomatoes! Just boil some water, throw in the peaches for 30-60 seconds, and dunk in a bowl of ice water to stop the “cooking.”  The peel starts coming off by itself and you can easily pull off the rest.

Once that’s done,  cut the peaches in half and pit.  To prevent darkening, you can follow these instructions:

Several treatments may be used to prevent or retard darkening. One is to coat the fruit as it is cut with a solution of 1 teaspoon (3 g) crystalline ascorbic acid, Fruit Fresh,  or 3,000 mg crushed vitamin C tablets per cup of water. Another is to drop the cut pieces in a solution of water and ascorbic acid, citric acid or lemon juice. Use 1 teaspoon (3,000 mg) ascorbic acid, 1 teaspoon citric acid or 3/4 cup lemon juice to 1 gallon water.An ascorbic acid (commercially sold as “Fruit Fresh”) and watersolution serves as a desirable anti-darkening treatment, adds nutritive value in the form of vitamin C, and does not change the flavor of the fruit as lemon juice may do. Ascorbic acid is available in crystalline or tablet form in drug stores and supermarkets. Ascorbic acid mixtures, such as ascorbic acid combined with sugar or with citric acid and sugar, also are available. For these, follow the manufacturer’s directions. In such mixtures, ascorbic acid usually is the important active ingredient. Because of its dilution with other materials, these forms may be more expensive than pure ascorbic acid.

If ascorbic acid products are not used in the pretreatment of cut fruit, they may be added to the canning juices or liquids before processing. This will help keep the fruit from darkening during storage. Use 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crystalline ascorbic acid or 750 to 1,500 mg crushed vitamin C tablets per quart of fruit. Commercial ascorbic and citric acid mixtures such as “Fruit Fresh” or “ACM” also may be used according to manufacturer’s directions.

We sprinkled some lemon juice over the peaches, but didn’t make any sort of those mixtures above. We did something similar with the apples we canned last year and they still look good.

There are two ways to can fruit, via raw pack and hot pack.  With raw packing, you put uncooked fruits into the jar, then a light syrup the rest of the way.  It’s a lot quicker than the hot pack, but your fruits don’t last as long because there’s more air in the jars.  We decided to hot pack our peaches instead, which required heating them through in a medium syrup before placing them in the jars.

To make the medium syrup, dissolve 3 1/4 cups of sugar in 5 cups of water. This should provide 7 cups of syrup.

Cook the peaches one layer at a time in the syrup until hot and then pack the hot peaches, cavity side down into your jars. This is harder than it looks! They kept flipping the wrong way for us, but the idea is to keep as much air out as possible. Once the jars are full, ladle the syrup over the peaches, leaving a 1/2 inch of headspace.  Put on the 2 piece caps and process 20 min. for pints, 25 min. for peaches.

We canned the remainder of the peaches from the peck we bought this past weekend, ending up with 4 quarts (and a little left over for K to bring to work with him tomorrow).

Peach Chutney

This weekend, hubby and I threw caution to the wind (ok, really just a very hot day weeding in the garden) and went picking blueberries and peaches instead.  What, you don’t think that sounds better?  I guess I can officially say being a migrant worker is better than weeding.

Actually, we didn’t pick the peaches.  Instead, we went looking for “seconds” at the farm stands down in Columbia County, inspired by the picture in this local blog post.  We found them at Golden Harvest Farm in Valatie, NY. For $9, we got a full peck of “utility” peaches! Utility peaches aren’t perfect but they are completely edible.  Some are just overripe, some are underripe and in some the skins aren’t perfect, but for our purposes, they were just what we needed. Considering that the “good” peaches were $17 a peck, we felt great about our purchase!

Especially for our purposes.  With that peck of peaches, we decided to make lots of peach chutney for this winter to eat with the samosas and Indian food we like on cold days with the overripe peaches.  With the rest, K wanted to can peach halves to have “fresh fruit” this winter to bring to work.

To make 7 pints peach chutney, you need:

  • 4 quarts finely chopped, peeled, pitted peaches
  • 2 – 3 cups brown sugar
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1/4 cup mustard seed
  • 2 tbsp ginger (I used ground ginger)
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 5 cups vinegar

To make a smaller amount, you can cut the recipe accordingly.  We sorted through the peaches and picked out the most overripe peaches we had, cutting out any rotten parts.  This came out to about 2 quarts, so I cut the recipe in half.

To make the chutney, combine all the ingredients in a large pot and simmer until thick.  Such a simple recipe!  Stir frequently to prevent sticking, but after it’s thickened to the consistency you like, ladle the hot chutney into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace.  Remove air bubbles, adjust the 2-piece caps, and process for 10 min. in a boiling-water canner.

Voila, chutney!

It’s Berrying Season!

June is here and almost gone and that means that berries of all sorts are in season!  A couple of weekends ago, K and I went strawberry picking and made short work of 4 quarts.  I won’t post about it in detail again, it was very similar to the strawberry picking we did last year, except that it was lightly misting and overcast.  This made it much nicer to pick rather than in the hot, sunny, humid weather.  We got 4 quarts this year, instead of 3 quarts like last, and aren’t planning to make any jam – there’s still a few jars left over.  And yet, we could have used even more!

The difference is, we finally purchased a dehydrator. Rather than heat up the whole house by putting on the oven to dehydrate, we can now use this dehydrate strawberries, cherries and blueberries, make fruit leather, and dry peas (oh yea, that’s coming).

So, after hulling strawberries, we froze a quart, kept a quart fresh for snacking on, and dried the rest.

The dehydrator has 4 “shelves” to dry on, pretty nifty.  For strawberries, you cut in half to dry.  They turn so small when they do!

2 quarts fresh turned into only a half a quart dried.

Next up, cherry picking.

Mesophilic Starter

Can you believe it?  I have somehow hurt my back AGAIN.  I guess working in the garden this weekend was not very smart, although at the time it felt ok.

I went to the family practice on Carman Rd. and the doctor told me there was nothing he could do for me and I needed to go to the ER.  They made me wait half an hour in the waiting room (I cannot get up from a sitting position without excruciating pain) then he pushed on my back which made me almost collapse, then told me there was nothing he could do. What could the ER do that he couldn’t? Isn’t he a doctor?  He also refused to give me a referral for PT (I don’t think I need one with my insurance anyway, but I asked) because he said he couldn’t examine me.  But of course, took my copay.

Why would I clog up the ER with something that was obviously not an emergency, when he is a doctor and it was during business hours?  So frustrating.

Anyway, since I’m now flat on my back unable to get up, I have time for a blog post.

Over the weekend, while I was mobile, I was able to make some mesophilic starter.

Although there are a variety of starters for different cheeses, there are two basic ones used for many: mesophilic and thermophilic.  I bought 5 packets of mesophilic starter from the brewing store the other day, but my new cheese book told me how I could make my own.  In order to save money, I decided to try – since it costs $6/5 packets (not a lot, but why not?)

Prepared Mesolithic Starter

Ingredients:

  • 1 packet direct-set Mesolithic starter
  • 1 quart skim milk
  • 1 quart canning jar

To make a prepared mesophilic starter for the first time, you need a direct-set starter.

I sacrificed one of the five I had bought in order to make a bunch of prepared.

Directions:

1. Sterilize the 1-quart canning jar by placing the jar and the lid (not the band) in boiling water for 5 minutes.

2. Cool jar and pour in skim milk, leaving a 1/2-in of head space (the whole quart of milk won’t fit in). Tightly cover with sterilized lid.

3.  Put the jar in the boiling water canner, making sure 1/4 in. of water covers the top of the jar.

4. Bring water to a boil, and let boil for 30 minutes.

5. Remove the jar from the boiling water and let cool to 72F.  This will take awhile!

6. “Innoculate” the milk by putting in the direct-set starter.  Uncover the milk in the jar, pour in the starter, and close the jar up quickly. Shake around to mix the starter into it.

7.  Place the jar in a place that’s 72F for 15-24 hours (16 hours is what my book says it normally takes).

8. When the starter is finished, it’ll look like yogurt and will separate from the sides of the jar.  If you taste it, it’ll taste slightly acidic and a little sickeningly sweet.

9. Once it’s finished, chill right away.  If you’re not planning to use all that starter within 3 days, pour it into ice cube trays and freeze it. Each cube = 1 ounce of starter and to make cheese (like cream cheese) you usually need 4 ounces.

Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Pears

I’ve fallen in love with these little pears.

They’re called Seckel pears, and they’re plum-sized bundles of sweetness!  I’ve just learned about them this year.  I generally am not a fan of pears, but the texture of these isn’t as mealy as I find most pears to be.  Of course, it’s because they’re sweet.  I’m addicted to sugar! They’re even also known as “sugar pears.”

So I’ve been buying them to eat with my lunches at work.  They’re available August through February so I can continue to find them at my farmer’s market for a little while longer. I will miss them when they’re gone.

I had some left over at the end of last week, and they were going soft – they wouldn’t have waited to be eaten. Instead of wasting them, I decided to pickle them, and make spiced pears.

I found a couple of recipes on the web, but none of them suited me exactly, so I created my own hybrid. I only had 4 little pears to preserve, the equivalent of two half-pints, so this recipe can be doubled or triple to suit your own amount of pears.

Pickled Pears

  • 1 c. sugar
  • 2/3 c. apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cinnamon stick, snapped in half
  • 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1 muslin spice bag
  • 6 whole allspice berries
  • 1/2 tsp. whole cloves

Prepare hot-water canning bath with jars and lids.

In large saucepan, combine vinegar, sugar, both halves of the cinnamon stick.  In a spice bag, put whole allspice berries and cloves and tie up. Add the spice bag to the mixture. Bring mixture to a boil, then cover and simmer for 15 minutes.

Wash and dry pears, but do not peel. Cut out any bad parts if needed.  Add pears to the mixture.

Bring to a boil and simmer for another 15 minutes.

Remove jars from hot-water bath and fill with pears and a half-stick each of cinnamon.  Add pickling liquid over the pears in each jar. Leave 1/2-inch of headspace, clean off rims and set lid and bands.  Process for 20 minutes.

The pickling liquid was DELICIOUS. I could have drank it.  As it was, I tasted it more than was necessary just because it was so yummy.

The final product is just so beautiful. What a pretty gift this would make, and at a half-pint size, the perfect individual dessert.  If I get more seckel pears, I will DEFINITELY be making this again!