September 28, 2012

Miscellaneous Canning Projects

It turns out that I prefer store-bought spaghetti sauce over my homemade stuff. I'm not sure what it is, but my homemade sauce tastes really acidic and sometimes it gives me heartburn. I've been offloading as much of it on my parents as possible (they seem to like it), but I don't know if I'll ever go to the bother of canning sauce again. Unfortunately, I planted more paste tomato plants this year than I know what to do with. Here's a small portion of this years harvest:

I thought I'd try canning whole tomatoes and see if I like the flavor better. It doesn't take that long to turn whole tomatoes into sauce on the stovetop. I used the hot-pack method, which means you don't have to process the jars as long. Unfortunately, by the time I heated my peeled tomatoes up, they turned into mush. So instead of whole tomatoes, I basically canned extremely watery sauce. Oh well, I can drain out the water and use it anyway.

I also finally got around to making red raspberry jam. I've been working for a lab all summer scouting for insects in a high-tunnel raspberry production system. One of the perks of the job is that I got to pick and keep as many raspberries as I want. I had never made red raspberry jam before because the berries are pretty pricey, so now was my chance to do it with free fruit!

I think I like it more than the black raspberry jam I make each year (from foraged berries). The flavor of the red jam is a bit cleaner and brighter than the black jam.

September 26, 2012

Easy Apple Butter

Apparently I'm not much of an applesauce eater because I still had the vast majority of the jars I canned a year ago in my pantry. I heard about a friend of mine turning applesauce into apple butter using her crockpot, so I thought I'd give it a try. The advantage of using a crockpot is that you can pretty much ignore it all day without worrying about it burning. I'm hoping that by re-processing the applesauce, I'll be extending its shelf-life too (I could just be making this up though). I used the apple butter instructions as a guideline, but I didn't have all the spices on hand.

I dumped about four pints of applesauce (from the batch that I didn't burn) into the crockpot, added about a half a cup of sugar and a teaspoon of cinnamon. 

I left the crockpot to simmer away on the highest setting all afternoon. Since the whole point is to reduce the volume of the applesauce, I left the lid ajar so that the condensation could escape easily. I still didn't have the desired thickness by bedtime, so I popped the crock in the fridge over night. Before plugging the crock pot in the next morning and put the glop in a blender to get it silky smooth. After several more hours (this is a slow process) it was thick enough. I poured it into jars and processed them in a water-bath canner for 10 minutes.

I'm hoping to give the majority of these away as gifts in the near future. I think apple butter is an easier sell than applesauce. This stuff would be great on a cinnamon raisin bagel or mixed into oatmeal. Yum!

September 25, 2012

Brassica Season

I'm helping teach a horticulture laboratory class one day a week and recently we went on a field trip to the MSU Student Organic Farm. I've gone on tours there probably a dozen times and I'm always learning something new and walking away inspired. They operate an 9-month organic farmer training program which trains people of all ages and background on everything there is to know about organic production (including veggies, cut flowers, honey, maple syrup, and livestock). In addition, they run a year-round CSA, an on-campus farm stand, and they even grow food for some of the campus dining halls.

During this particular tour, I was most impressed by their variety of brassica crops including:

Brussels Sprouts

Cabbage (or maybe this was cauliflower?)

Absolutely massive 'Kossak' kohlrabi

Beauty in shades of green, gray, and blue.

And lots of cabbage.

September 24, 2012

Chicken Garbage Disposal

I didn't want to admit it to myself, but one of the two batches of applesauce I made last fall got scorched...and the burned flavor is still there. I've avoided dealing with the botched batch for almost a year and I finally came up with a solution that doesn't make me feel wasteful.

Turns out, chickens love burned applesauce!

Now I have a way to dispose of my last 5 quarts of the stuff (they've been taking up precious pantry space too). The non-burned batch of applesauce was turned into apple butter, but I'll save that for another post.

September 14, 2012

Accidental Sweet and Sour Sauce (a.k.a. Sweet Red Pepper and Garlic Jelly)

In the midst of my Yellow Tomato Jam session a few nights ago, I realized I had all the ingredients to make yet another savory jam. I picked up a few patio bell pepper plants at work last spring and they're finally cranking out some fruit (although they are quite small). I also have a couple hefty bundles of garlic that I ripped straight out of the ground and hastily shoved (dirt and all) onto a shelf in my basement. As I mentioned before, I was feeling really guilty about my near total neglect for my vegetable garden this summer and the lack of garden produce I've managed to incorporate into my cooking (again, thank-you Master's degree)...hence, Sweet Red Pepper and Garlic Jelly (from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving).

I added a little red food coloring because I didn't think the aspic-like jelly looked particularly appetizing. By the time I got my act together and got all my jars and lids ready, the majority of the red pepper had nearly dissolved (wasn't expecting that), but the garlic stayed intact. I added a little black pepper and red pepper flakes because I thought some heat would be nice. 

It tastes remarkably like garlicky sweet and sour sauce, which I'm a little bummed about. Sweet and sour sauce is basically a syrup of sugar, vinegar, and bell pepper colored with either food dye or paprika (so, the exact same ingredients as the recipe I was using). Why wasn't I warned? I think Ball should consider renaming this recipe.

At least it's pretty? Maybe homemade egg rolls are in my near future.

September 12, 2012

Yellow Tomato Jam

I had an impromptu jam session the other night. I had been feeling guilty for the lack of tomato-based canning goodies being cranked out this summer (thank-you Master's Thesis submission process) and I was inspired by a recipe for Orange Tomato Jam with Smoked Paprika from Food in Jars. However, being an impromptu jam session, I didn't have all the ingredients for that recipe and ended up making the Food in Jars Yellow Tomato and Basil Jam instead.

I ran out to the garden with my trusty garage sale colander (love this thing) and picked all my golden beauties.  I planted over 30 varieties of heirlooms this year, so this jam was made with a motley crew of sungold, taxi, big rainbow, azoychka, valencia, moonglow, kellogg's breakfast, persimmon, and yellow brandywine). 

I was nervous about adding the basil suggested in the recipe. The jam was so incredibly sweet on its own, you could practically put it on a PB&J. However, I wanted to truly delve into the realm of savory jams, so I added the basil. It adds a nice flavor and I like the little ribbons of green (I did my best attempt at a chiffonade). I'm looking forward to trying this out on a bagel and cream cheese or as a sweet and sticky glaze on meat. Maybe I'll even try that PB&J!

September 10, 2012


Why the nearly 4-month gap in blog posts? Blame graduate school! In the last several months I've worked three different part-time jobs, written countless cover letters and job applications, finished writing my thesis, defended my thesis, submitted my thesis to Michigan State University, and tried to figure out my post-grad school health and dental insurance needs. Only now are things starting to settle down...and that's only because I'm partially-unemployed.

During my (hopefully brief) downtime, I want to try to reclaim my jungle-like vegetable garden, work on some home-improvement projects, and do some canning, reading, crocheting, cooking, cleaning, know, all the things that didn't make the priorities list for the last few months.

When life gets busy, things like this happen:

The behemoth of 2012.

September 9, 2012

Pasta for Chickens

After cleaning out some of my kitchen cupboards, I decided to make a little treat for my chickens. I found at least 8 mostly empty boxes/bags of pasta shapes (none of which had enough left for a meal), so I boiled them up into a pasta "trail mix". I have the big bag of noodles in the fridge and I give them a sprinkle of it everyday.

They love it! I'm sure it's not particularly nutritional (although there was a box of whole-wheat macaroni in there), but it's a nice treat in small quantities.

...And I'm loving the cupboard space.
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