My grandma would be proud

August 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

As a kid I can remember my grandmother telling me to go down to her basement to grab a jar of tomatoes she had canned the previous summer. I knew that meant she was making her famous ribs, so I was pretty excited, but I also was afraid to go down to the basement by myself. They lived in an old house my grandfather built himself with creaking stairs and you had to make your way down part way in the dark because the hall light wouldn’t reach the whole way. I would hold my breath down the last few stairs, heart beating out of my chest, as I felt around the corner for the light and then breath a sigh of relief when I found it. I would then run to grab the tomatoes and run the hell back out of there. I still think basements are creepy.

I loved the sauce she would make with those tomatoes, so it was worth it. I always wanted her to teach me how to can and she’d always shrug it off saying it was so easy. What was there to teach? I think my grandparents generation took for granted how challenged we are with things like that today. Convenience has made us fairly inept at things that were simple to them. Today I made my first attempt, although I have no idea if I did it the way she did.
I bought a flat of tomatoes at the Munson Farm stand for $35 which had just been picked an hour before. I told myself this justified the fact it was actually more expensive to can than it would have been to just buy canned tomatoes. My friend Alicia came over and helped me out. First I blanched the tomatoes for 60 seconds in boiling water and then put them in an ice bath. The skins came right off and then we cored and quartered the tomatoes.
I also juiced fresh lemon juice to add to the jars. First we sterilized the jars and lids in the dishwasher and kept them there until we were ready to use them. We packed the tomatoes into the quart jars up to 1/2″. One flat yielded 7 quarts. We added 2 T. fresh lemon juice and 1 t. salt to each quart jar and poured some of the juice that had run off into the bowls over them. We filled the rest up to 1/2″ with the water from the blanching.  Using a butter knife we got rid of any trapped bubbles and then added the lids.
I processed them in a boiling water bath for 55 minutes. We had to add extra time for the altitude.
I have become much more comfortable with canning after this week and trusting that the jars are going to seal. My grandma would be proud of my first batch of tomatoes. These will be going in my kitchen pantry though so I can avoid any creepy basement encounters!

I think I am becoming a little addicted to preserving after this week. You’d think I was preparing for a hurricane or something. The East Coast has had a strange week to say the least with earthquakes and hurricane Irene. I was ready to supply my friends and family with reserves if they had needed them. Luckily I can keep them for now. 🙂

Hand picked strawberry preserves

August 25, 2011 § 1 Comment

I had forgotten what strawberries should taste like until yesterday. It’s been so long since I’ve had a strawberry picked straight off the farm. Yesterday I went to Berry Patch Farms just outside of Denver. It’s a self-pick farm that not only had berries yesterday but also gorgeous flowers and pickling cucumbers you could pick. They also have amazing produce for sale inside the adorable barn.
 It’s a fun thing to do with kids and yesterday I was joined by my friend Kelly and her berry picking master of a son, Darwin. At only age 2, he was a real trooper since even at 10 a.m. it was already in the 80s out there picking in the fields.

I will go to great lengths for fresh picked strawberry preserves. It may not be as fancy as a lot of the artisanal stuff out there, but it has to be one of my favorites for its simplicity. It’s just hard to beat, especially when you have strawberries as delicious as the ones we picked yesterday.
I’m not going to lie, I could have totally used a nap after only an hour out there picking, but my work was not done. (brief aside: anyone who has issues with immigration and migrant labor should go spend an hour picking strawberries in the summer heat. I think you may have a better appreciation for the hard work those people do day in and day out.) Back to the jam…

I used a simple recipe out of The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook for “Children’s Strawberry Jam”. This recipe was similar to others I found online.  It was very easy to make only requiring 3 ingredients: delicious strawberries, sugar (I forgot how much goes into this stuff!) and fresh squeezed lemon juice. I halved this recipe since the pickings were a bit slim at this point at the farm. I couldn’t have done 2 hours out there.
It smells pretty amazing as it starts to cook & thicken. It’s one of those things when people hear you’re making preserves it’s easy to conjure up helpers.  My friend Mary came over later and helped me out cleaning strawberries and stirring the jam. It’s always more fun to do this kind of thing with friends.
After a little over an hour I ended up with 10 cute little jars of preserves.  Of course some went to the helpers and others who stopped by in the neighborhood. 🙂
I enjoyed my first taste this morning on a flaky, warm croissant. Amazing!

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