Sunday, July 31, 2016

Small batch Strawberry Jam and Strawberries in Syrup

It's a very lacklustre sort of day here -- overcast and a bit cool, but still rather muggy, perfect for staying and putting up the strawberries from the farmer's market. Yesterday, I got the strawberries prepared, macerating them in sugar overnight in the refrigerator in two batches --  a small 1-quart batch to be made into jam and a larger 5-quart batch to be preserved in a very light sugar syrup.

Starting with the jam, since it is such a small batch, I figured why waste energy heating up my big water bath canner when a large soup pot would do.

So, placing a round cake rack on the bottom of a soup pot, adding a good splash of white vinegar to keep the pot and the jars clean, adding four of my little round jam jars and their rings, I fill the pot with water and start it heating. Click here for some basics of water bath canning. Or consult a trusted canning guide like those from Ball or Bernardin.

Meanwhile, since this is such a small batch, I will be using the juice and zest of a lemon to provide some pectin, rather than commercial pectin.  In addition, I will add some saved lemon seeds tied up in a small square of cheesecloth to provide an additional pectin boost.

The smaller batch of macerated strawberries are placed in another large pot with an additional 1 cup of sugar (they were macerated in 1 cup of sugar, so this makes a total of 2 cups) and brought to the boil.

As the temperature approaches 220F, the lemon juice, zest and seeds are added. The picture above shows the temperature at 221F, so I was a bit late in adding the lemon. No problem.

After adding the lemon, I turned the heat down to medium-low and let the jam simmer for another 5 minutes before removing the lemon seeds in their cheesecloth.  By this time the jars and rings had been boiling for well over 10 minutes and were therefore sterilised, so I removed them from the canner and I ladled the jam into 3 of them.

Two full jars and another one just over half-filled. The fourth jar was not needed. I put the three jars back in the canner, waited for it to come back up to a full boil and then counted 10 minutes to process. Happily, all three jars pinged to say they had successfully sealed.  I will use up the partially filled jar as soon as possible because, although it sealed successfully and is therefore shelf-stable, with the large amount of open space inside, the quality of the jam will deteriorate quicker than the full jars. Recipe here adapted from Food In Jars.

On to the strawberries in syrup.

Since this is a larger batch, I switched to my large blue enamel canner and got 7 pint jars and their rings heating.

Meanwhile, the Bernardin Guide to Home Preserving describes a "very light syrup" for 7 pint jars as 5 cups of water to 1/2 cup of sugar, which "approximates natural sugar level in most fruits; adds the fewest calories". Since the strawberries had been macerating in 2 cups of sugar, I decided to drain them first and see how much juice I had.

Three cups as it turns out.  With 2 cups of sugar, this is definitely a medium syrup edging toward heavy.

So, to balance, I am diluting the juice with an additional 2 cups of water.  Five cups of juice to 2 cups of sugar still puts it in the medium range and as much as I would prefer a very light syrup, a medium syrup will have to do.

The syrup is brought to a full boil and then the drained strawberries are added to it.  Once the berries and syrup are back up to a boil, I turned down the heat to low and simmered the berries for few minutes longer.

By this time, the jars had been boiling for well over 10 minutes, so were sterilised and ready to go. I removed them to a folded tea towel, took the strawberries off the heat and proceeded to fill the jars. After wiping the rims of the jars, centering the lids, applying the rings and tightening them only to fingertip-tight, I placed the jars back in the canner, waited for it to return to boiling and then counted 20 minutes processing time.

This is known as the "hot pack" method where the food to be canned (usually fruit, including tomatoes) is heated together with the canning liquid to boiling and then ladled into hot jars. This is the preferred method for fruit since fruit is very porous and contains a lot of air which should be removed to prevent discolouration and keep flavour at its peak for as long as possible.

"Raw (or cold) pack" refers to packing raw food into hot, sterilised jars, then filling the jars with boiling canning liquid. The raw pack method is especially suited for making pickles.

Like tomatoes, you can see that the strawberries have congregated at the tops of the jars leaving clear juice at the bottom. Once the jars have cooled, a gentle shake should re-incorporate the fruit with the juice. You can also see that, despite the hot-pack method, the strawberries have lost a lot of their colour as it has been leached out into the juice. This in no way affects the flavour.

The result:  6 pints of strawberries in syrup
                   3 jars of strawberry jam

In another of those rare occurrences for me, the jar of strawberries front and centre in the picture above did not seal, so I will be having them over yogourt for breakfast in the next few days. Yay!

Update: August, 5, 2016 -- I have been having that unsealed jar of strawberries over yogourt for breakfast the past couple of mornings and I have noticed that over time, some of the colour seems to return to the strawberries so they are not quite so pale and anemic looking as they appear in the picture above. Regardless, they are still mighty tasty and will be a real treat to have in the middle of winter!

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Port Credit Farmer's Market, Strawberry Preserves, and my own Black Brandywine Cherry Tomatoes!!

Even though it was overcast and cool with the occasional sprinkle of rain, I ventured out to the picturesque village of Port Credit, about a 20 minute drive from here and a part of the larger City of Mississauga for many years.

I was after strawberries to both jam and put up in syrup and I had been told a couple of weeks ago that although the early strawberries were pretty much finished, the everbearing strawberries would be at their peak about now, so I thought I would check it out.

There were some strawberries, but not a many as I though there would be.  Perhaps they peaked last week. Anyway, there were enough to choose from, the going rate between $5 and $5.50 a quart or 2 quarts for $10.  I managed to find a flat of 6 quarts for $28.

My apologies for the blurry photo -- all this fresh produce left me quivering with excitement!  This group had the biggest, best looking berries and it was from them that I bought my flat.

Home again and time to start in on the preserving.  Not being a big eater of jam, although I do love it, I decided to set aside 1 quart of the strawberries and make a small batch of jam and I will preserve the rest in a very light syrup. I have done this a couple of years in a row now and although canned strawberries tend to get flabby, mushy and "blown-out", I still enjoy them over ice-cream or over yogourt for breakfast.  Nothing lifts my spirits on a cold, dark winter's morning than the fresh summery taste of my own canned fruit and strawberries, despite their texture, are no exception!

Part of my inspiration for making jam (apart from the joy of having some in my pantry) is the jars I will be using. I inherited 4 little round jam jars a few years ago from my cousin, Lynn and I instantly fell in love with them.  I had never seen them before and apparently they were available years ago, but Bernardin stopped making them.

Back in March of this year, Marisa posted on her blog about Ball (the American equivalent of Bernardin -- both are owned by Jardin) bringing back these jars. I was thrilled and thought it was only a matter of time before Bernardin followed suit and brought them back to Canada. Sure enough, about a month ago, they showed up on Bernardin's website with the note that they were available at major retailers.

So, I first checked Canadian Tire, my usual canning goods supplier, but to no avail.  Same with Home Depot, Lowes, Rona and even Home Hardware.  Lots of the usual canning jars, but no little round jam jars.

Finally, I did what I should have done in the first place and asked Mr. Google. And, much to my supreme chagrin, there they were waiting for me at that death-star of the evil empire: Wal-Mart!! I make a habit of avoiding Wal-Mart like the plague, so it was with firmly gritted teeth that I swallowed my pride and with eyes burning from my hypocrisy, bought two sets of 4 jars. Sigh! My hatred of Wal-Mart is the stuff of legend and may be worth a ranting post of its own some day.  Not today, though, and not here.

So, to prepare the strawberries, I first set aside one quart basket of berries from the flat, give them a good wash and proceed to trim and hull them, chopping the smaller ones into quarters and the larger ones into eighths.

Once all berries from that one quart basket have been trimmed, hulled and chopped, I mix in one cup of granulated sugar.

Covering the bowl, I popped it into the fridge to allow the fruit to macerate overnight to extract as much juice as possible.

I repeated the washing, trimming and hulling with the remaining 5 quarts of berries, but I leave the smaller ones cut in half and the larger ones in quarters for preserving in very light syrup.

And, to end off, I'm am so excited to announce that my beloved Black Brandywine Cherry Tomatoes are now starting to ripen. All that babying and coddling have paid off!

Same amazing taste as their big brothers. I'm thrilled to have them now in my collection!  Tomorrow, I will tackle the macerated strawberries, make a small batch of strawberry jam and put the rest up in very light syrup.  Stay tuned!

Pantry in Action: Sweet Cherry Barbeque Pulled Chicken

The "Pantry in Action" series shows creative ways of using all the wonderful food we've preserved during the year. I will include recipes wherever appropriate with links back to the post(s) where a particular ingredient (or ingredients) was canned.

Having just discovered a bag of cooked chicken meat in my freezer left over from the last batch of chicken stock I made and with the wonderful Sweet Cherry Barbeque Sauce I made last week, this practically made itself!

Pour a pint jar of Sweet Cherry Barbeque Sauce in the bottom of the slow cooker.  Add a medium-sized white onion, sliced thinly and the shredded, cooked meat of one whole poached chicken.  Cover and cook on low for 8 hours or so.  The end.

I split it between five 2-cup freezer containers paired with cooked brown rice and popped the containers into the freezer ready for a quick lunch or dinner. That barbeque sauce is amazing and packs a real punch!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Strawberries, Rhubarb and Cherries, Oh My!!

"Egads and little fishes!" as my mother was fond of saying. I can't believe that it's been over a month since my last post. (Were I Catholic, this would definitely seem confessional!).

Much has happened in the interim, both good and bad. I am not going to dwell on the bad stuff here -- the media have done an admirable job of covering -- although I encourage you to read/watch as many different sources as possible to get as balanced a view as possible. Remember, there are at least two sides to every story.

Instead, what I want to do here is focus on the good.

Like the emergence of Ontario strawberries. Granted, I am posting this over a month after the fact and we are now firmly entrenched in strawberry season here in Ontario, but no matter when, Ontario strawberries are something to celebrate!  Juicy and packed with flavour they far outshine their insipid imported counterparts!

As it was the long Canada Day weekend as well as a long Independence Day weekend (Friday, July 1 was Canada Day and Monday, July 4 was Independence Day), and the Toronto Pride Parade was on the Sunday, July 3, I decided to host a "Canada Pride" barbeque on Canada Day.

As word got out, the number of guests swelled, so I hastily made it into a potluck, which ended up working wonderfully. I asked my guests to bring either a salad or appetizers and I would take care of the main courses of cold poached salmon fillet, barbequed sausages and chicken wings/drumsticks as well as ice cream to accompany the Canada Day cake my friend Nancy offered to bring.

Since there would be a number of dairy-restricted guests, I thought that a couple of dairy-free ice "creams" would be in order. So, consulting my recipe stash and Mr. Google, I came up with Coconut Milk Strawberry Ice Cream.

Since this was my first time making a non-dairy ice cream, using unflavoured gelatin was new to me, but in hindsight it was essential for creating the right consistency in the ice cream base.

Soften the gelatin in a little water and in the meantime, blitz most of the strawberries (holding a few back for chopping into the ice cream) with the coconut milk and honey.

Pour the strawberry/coconut milk mixture into a large bowl and stir in the melted gelatin. Pop into the fridge and let it set up for several hours or overnight. There isn't enough gelatin to produce a firm jello-like set, but it should be thick and creamy, like a yogourt drink.

Meanwhile, chop the reserved strawberries into small pieces.

Prepare your ice cream maker. This is my Cuisinart. It's an awesome little workhorse that is used infrequently but is SO appreciated when needed for churning out all sorts of frozen goodies!

Following the manufacturer's directions, start the ice cream maker, then slowly pour the prepared base into the freezer bowl. Churn until frozen and creamy, about 20 minutes.

Add the reserved chopped strawberries and churn for another few minutes to thoroughly combine.

Pack into a freezer-friendly container and freeze until firm -- several hours or overnight.  Note:  since there is no butterfat in this ice cream, it does freeze VERY solidly.  You will definitely want to take it out of the freezer about 30-45 minutes before serving to improve scoopability. Also note, due to the lack of butterfat, it will not have the creamy scoop of a dairy ice cream, but will be more ice crystalline, more like a sorbet. Very tasty, regardless.

Another non-dairy ice "cream" I made for the barbeque was an Almond Milk Chocolate Ice "Cream", made similarly to the Coconut Strawberry Ice "Cream" above. Click on the links for recipes.

Over the long weekend, I made a trip to a nearby farmer's market and discovered both the early Ontario strawberries and the Ontario cherries were nearing their end, so I scooped up some of each. The farmer I bought the strawberries from told me that the ever-bearing strawberries would be coming into their prime in another week or so and that if I checked back then, I might be able to get a flat of strawberries at a decent price. I will definitely check that out!

Meanwhile, these strawberries I bought were earmarked for canning, some with rhubarb from my garden and some on their own in simple syrup for having over yogourt for breakfast some cold, dark, dreary February morning.

So, to prepare, I topped and hulled the strawberries, then divided them, approximately two-thirds to be canned on their own to one-third to be combined with my previously frozen rhubarb.  The above photos show the strawberry/rhubarb mixture macerating with about 2 cups of granulated sugar. I like to leave the fruit to macerate as long as possible (overnight is ideal!) so that the maximum amount of juice is extracted.

I've also split the rhubarb in half, so that one half is combined with the strawberries and half is on its own. Out of this exercise I will therefore get three different preserves: strawberries in simple syrup, stewed rhubarb and stewed rhubarb with strawberries!  All will be superlative over yogourt on a cold winter's morning.

The bounty:   2 1/2 pints strawberries & rhubarb
                       3 pints rhubarb
                       1 pint strawberries

As for the cherries, I was inspired by a need to clean out my freezer (last year's cherries from my backyard tree), the wonderful irresistible cherries from the farmer's market and Marisa's post last week for Sweet Cherry Barbeque Sauce. Oh yeah! Totally up my alley and I literally drooled at her suggestion of using said barbeque sauce as a braising base for chicken or pork. Hot patootie!

So, I was on this like glaze on doughnuts.

In the pot are 3 pounds of sweet cherries, a cup of apple cider vinegar and a cup of packed brown sugar. On the cutting board is everything else.

Since the recipe called for 3 pounds of cherries and I had 5 1/2 pounds, rather than scale up the recipe (which would have been okay since it's not jam or marmalade), I thought that since I hadn't tasted this before, I would make the recipe as described and can the excess cherries in simple syrup to have over yogourt for breakfast. The photo above shows the excess cherries beginning their maceration in a cup of white sugar.

The barbeque sauce (large pot in back) and the cherries in simple syrup (smaller pot in front).

The reward:  2 1/2 pints sweet cherry barbeque sauce
                     1 1/2 pints sweet cherries in simple syrup

Taste testing while I was making this indicates this one's a keeper!  It's a nice balance between fruity, sweet, savoury, spicy-hot and tart. I can't wait to try it in a slow-cooker braise!