The beauty of bartering

This is just a quick little story of how I came into some canning through an unusual method a couple of weeks ago.

This month we went to Disneyland on vacation and I came back with a Starbucks Disneyland mug for my morning coffee. We started to realize that we have quite a few mugs in our collection so we chose four mugs to set aside and get rid of. Our town has a “no money exchanged” Facebook group for exchanging items, so I posted a quick ad for the (Denby) mugs to see if anyone wanted them. In exchange I suggested that maybe someone had produce in their garden that they were willing to share.

It didn’t take long before someone replied about the mugs. She wondered if I’d be interested in some canning in exchange? She offered pickled beets, marmalade and peach jam! By now we were chatting over Facebook messenger and so I typed a quick “Sure!” in reply, and noted my husband was voting particularly for the peach jam.

I never saw the woman who came to drop off this beautiful little collection at our front door in exchange for our mugs, but I plan to enjoy her provisions all the same!

Turmeric Pickled Eggs

I had never had a pickled egg. It wasn’t a ‘thing’ in my family, and I never knew anyone that made them or ate them. But the mastery challenge from Food in Jars (which everyone knows I’ve been completing since January) for April was Quick Pickles and after making quick pickled asparagus and carrots I thought I’d try my hand at pickled eggs.

They just seemed like they might be delicious, especially when I saw people posting in the Food in Jars community about pickling them with additional flavourings such as beets and turmeric. Maybe it was because it was right around Easter time and we didn’t colour any other eggs this year, but I had a hankering to make (and eat!) those coloured pickled eggs!

The first step was to get some chicken eggs from my nearest local farm, Cast Iron Farm. Their ‘rainbow eggs’ never fail to delight me as they are varying shapes and colours from the chickens that run happily around their farm. I had read somewhere recently that it’s easier to get the shell off of hard-boiled eggs that are not quite as fresh, so I let these eggs hang out in the fridge for a week and a half or so before I made them. (A couple were hard to peel but most were pretty good.)

I used this recipe from the Food in Jars site, which is actually a guest post from someone named Heather Francis. I wanted to make both the turmeric and beet eggs but we were leaving on holidays a few days after and I just didn’t want to load my schedule up with too many chores before I left, so I just made the turmeric eggs. If you’re like me, turmeric is something that languishes in your cupboard for months and (ahem!) years, so I knew I had some on hand!

I used a different method to hard-boil the eggs as I normally have my whole life, and I think it worked based on eating two of the eggs so far. My method that I traditionally have used ends up sometimes colouring the yolks slightly green and this method didn’t. I used these instructions for How to Boil Eggs Perfectly Every Time from thekitchn.com and it seemed to work.

Making the brine and cold-packing the eggs in the hot brine was very simple. This recipe calls for onions in it as well, that’s what you see in the jars alongside the eggs and other spices. The recipe just said to use one onion and didn’t specify red or yellow, and I only had a red onion on hand, so that’s why I used. (Interesting side fact: The onion slices had a nice red colour when they went in and now two weeks later they are completely yellow with no red remaining.)

A few days after I made the eggs (I packed them in those tall Ball jars which were perfect to use for this project) we went on holidays for about 10 days and I tried one immediately when I got home. They’re pretty good but not amazing, which is always what I’m searching for, so I think I’ll continue my quest to find the perfect recipe for pickled eggs. Maybe apple cider vinegar next time instead for more flavour? Or I’ll try these eggs again in a couple of weeks and beyond, because I think they may get better with age.

This was a nice accompaniment to a dinner last night of grilled chicken with a fresh salsa over it. Love the colour!

Quick Pickled Carrots and Asparagus

Filled with possibility

I grew up eating “Aunt Dianne’s Icicle Pickles” which my mother used to make and keep in the basement cold room. We actually called it a “fruit room”, where pickles and jams lined the shelves and cobwebs gleefully grew in the corners until every now and then we cleaned them all away.

I haven’t made icicle pickles since 2014 (I know, because I had labelled the jars and just gave away the last of them) because our pickle consumption in this house is actually fairly low. Dianne’s recipe is made in a large stone crock, which I have, and large stone crocks make lots of pickles. Say about 12-500 ml jars large, which is hard for a family of three to use up when frankly we just don’t eat a lot of pickles.

The only other time I’ve pickled something is when I made spicy green beans years ago and, oh, those were good. I think I’ve just made them once but I should make them again. I would probably eat more spicy green beans at this point than cucumber pickles, because I could pair them with spicy Bloody Caesars and garnish with a semi-dried landjaeger sausage or some other meaty delight. Or just eat them plain as a snack, straight out of the jar. I don’t foresee a new spicy bean batch lasting very long at any rate.

Although I had these two pickling experiences under my preserving belt neither of them were examples of ‘quick pickles’ – the focus of this month’s Food in Jars challenge. Quick pickles, sometimes called ‘refrigerator pickles’ – are pickles made and brined quickly, ready to eat quickly, and not ‘shelf stable’ – in other words, not able to be processed in a water bath canner and left on a room temperature shelf. Quick pickles are to be stored in the fridge and eaten more quickly – as fast as 4-6 weeks or perhaps even sooner.

I don’t know why I had asparagus on the brain for quick pickling. Maybe it was our late spring attempting to play tricks with my mind and hoping for local asparagus to be ready. Maybe it was because I just wanted to buy tall jars that I didn’t even know existed up until a few weeks ago. But regardless of the why, I got together with a friend last weekend and we did the how – we made quick pickled asparagus and quick pickled carrots together in her kitchen and walked away with three jars each of the small batches.

I’ve had a chance to try both the carrots and the asparagus and I’m liking the asparagus better so far. Here’s the recipe if you’re interested in trying it. Maybe as part of a smorgasbord meal like we had tonight. They didn’t stay as green as they are in the picture but they’re crisp and delicious. I’m sure they won’t last long!

 

Raspberry Meyer Lemon Shrub

Even though I’m posting this in April, I actually made this second shrub in March when it was still time for “jellies and shrubs” month for the FIJ Mastery Challenge. I told you in my recent post about making the Rhubarb Ginger shrub that I had no idea what a shrub was before this challenge, and now I’m addicted to shrubs!

I did end up ordering Michael Dietsch’s book, Shrubs, and have been salivating over all the recipes to try on its pages. People, shrubs are dead easy to make (so very quick) and are delicious! If you have sparkling water, white wine or club soda on hand that needs a little je ne sais quoi, or have a cocktail fetish and are looking for something new to play around with, you really should consider making shrubs.

Not surprisingly I used another of Marisa’s recipes (seriously, I’m not crushing on the woman but she’s just so good!) because I was in love with the colour and the flavour sounded like it would really work. Still having access to Meyer lemons almost made this shrub a time-limited decision, so I went for it. I made the Raspberry Meyer Lemon Shrub which has just a few steps but takes two days to make.

IMG_2110IMG_2111IMG_2115

Well this shrub is gorgeous in colour but truthfully, I wasn’t sure that I liked it when I first tried it. I may have a tenuous relationship with the scent and flavour of Meyer lemons, I’m still not sure if I think they are great or sort of weird. (If you haven’t tried them, I’ve heard their scent and juice described as ‘floral’). But this shrub has grown on me over the days I’ve been drinking it and I’m going to deem it a success. It makes a refreshing drink when mixed with club soda and it feels good that I made it myself and it isn’t laden with chemicals. (Our daughter even likes it, making her, in Michael Dietch’s words, one of the “coolest kids in the neighbourhood”!) And seeing it in my fridge in the cute little jar that I got from Homesense a couple of months ago (not knowing what it would be for) just makes me smile.

Shrubs. Try them!

Canning rack cleanout

It seems like spring is actually here (a month too late but I’ll take it!) and with spring thinking comes thoughts about spring cleaning. Oh not that I want to get out my squeegee and bucket and clean the windows or anything (although I’m sure I’ll have to do that at some point soon), but I was inspired to clean out some stored food I had to make room for more canning and preserving this spring and summer.

This post on pantry management was the catalyst. Although my “cupboard” for canning wasn’t full of a lot of unknowns that needed rediscovering again like Alex’s did, I did get thinking about the abundance of jars of jams, jellies and pickles on my canning rack and how probably someone else could use some of what would take our small family a long time to go through. (I’ll interject here that not only do I do my own canning, I’m on the receiving end of canning from my MIL – we have a lot of canning!)

Happily, I remembered that we have a Facebook group here in my town which people use to post requests for or offers of assistance and so I posted to the admins to see if they would take some canning for their food hampers. They replied they would! I was able to box up about 13 or 14 jars to take to them the same day.

It feels somewhat like a selfish donation because I’m making room for making more jams and whatnot over the next few months as we sail into summer, but hopefully the people on the receiving end of these can actually use them. I wish more of what I gave was real food and not sugar-laden preserves, but maybe that’s something I can strive for in the future when I do it again. I like the idea of making some for us and some for others who could really use them.

On a related note, a friend of mine years ago used to live in Montreal and bake banana bread often for a women’s shelter nearby. She was amazed that the shelter took the food happily, they didn’t care about it being baked in a commercial kitchen or having been health inspected and whatnot. My friend used to get “dead bananas” from people, freeze them, bake a whole bunch of loaves and take them into the shelter on a regular basis. She wasn’t trying to clean out her cupboard like I was, she was simply doing it to help people in need. It was a wonderful thing to do and I’ve always remembered that she did this (and maybe still does!) It’s not surprising that later when she moved to a new city she opened a home-based bakery business. 🙂

 

Apple Pectin

I mentioned in my last post that I had made pectin to go into a delicious Rhubarb Prosecco Jelly recently. I followed this recipe for apple pectin from the Local Kitchen Blog, that the jelly recipe had referred to.

It would have been interesting to make the Meyer Lemon Pectin that the recipe also had mentioned as an option, but as luck would have it, a few days before my friend and I were going to get together to make the jelly, my husband had brought home a whole bunch of apples that he got for free. (He had been somewhere with a group of people that had all gotten box lunches, and no one had eaten their apples. When he called to ask if I wanted them all I jumped on it!)

The free apples were McIntosh variety and I made applesauce with the good part (which we all ate pretty much right away) and put all the cores and peels into the freezer for a few days until I was ready to make the pectin:

The night I was ready to make the pectin I pulled them all out of the freezer. Following the recipe, I put all the “leavings” in my Dutch oven and boiled them for about two hours that night while I was watching TV and doing other things:

At the end of the boiling I strained the cores and peels using my strainer. I got this strainer at a garage sale years ago and have been using it ever since. You don’t see them sold too much anymore (although I did see a set at Victoria’s Capital Iron the other day – the first time I had seen them for sale in years) and they’re very useful for anything where you want something to sit and drain for hours. In this case, I let the mixture drain overnight into a low dish:

And in the morning, gathered up the pretty liquid and boiled it for another hour or so to reduce it:

And eventually put it into the water bath canner so that I could save it to use during the summer jam season.

The recipe made quite a lot, I had the six cups shown in this photo plus another two cups that I saved for the Rhubarb Prosecco Jelly and another cup that I couldn’t fit in the canner to process it:

Now I’ll be the first to say that this pectin didn’t work out amazingly – or so I think. I didn’t mention in the other post that the jelly turned out a bit rubbery. I’m not an expert on these things but we did have to cook it a long time to get it to a gel point, and I think it was probably the pectin that had something to do with that. Because I made the pectin with McIntosh apples and not green apples or something that is higher in pectin itself, I think that it didn’t do as great of a job setting the jelly as it could have if I had made the pectin with less ripe or green apples. (As a point of comparison, I made the Concord Grape Jelly this past weekend, using a Certo powdered pectin instead of a homemade one, and it set up incredibly fast.) However, even though the rhubarb jelly is a little rubbery, it is still “gelled” and is still incredibly delicious!

I’ll continue to make my own pectin here and there, but this summer I’ll be looking for the vendor at the Shirley market that I met last year, from whom I purchased crab apples and made crab apple pectin. I haven’t Googled it, but something tells me that crab apples are probably higher in pectin than McIntosh’s – because of their tartness – and so I might return to that practice in the future when making liquid pectin. I had made Damson plum jam with that crab apple pectin last summer and it worked well.

So, that’s how you make apple pectin. So easy, and a great way to use up stuff that would otherwise go in the compost. And now I need to find a recipe to use my 1 cup still left in the fridge!

Rhubarb Ginger Shrub

IMG_2054Two months ago I had no idea what a shrub was. I knew what a bush shrub was, but not these things that people are calling drinking vinegars – shrub the drink.

If you haven’t heard of them either, shrubs are vinegar-sugar-fruit concoctions that have been around for eons and eons. While once they were used to help prevent scurvy in sailors, today we drink shrubs because they’re just plain good.

This month the mastery challenge has been all about jellies and shrubs and since we were making Rhubarb Prosecco Jelly the other day, Trish and I, we figured that we might as well make a shrub too. The rhubarb she had pulled out of her freezer just happened to be enough to make both recipes. So,  a shrub we tried. It was pretty easy to whip up after we had worked on the jelly.

We used this recipe from Vegetarian Times; I was captivated by the colour of the liquid and just happened to have some ginger languishing in my freezer. It was dead easy to make and afterwards we tried a few teaspoons of it in glasses of the sparkling wine we had leftover from making the jelly. For something that we both agreed didn’t actually sound that good, it definitely was.

IMG_2057

I’ve had the shrub in white wine several times since and have come to love its vinegar-y flavour. A surprise for the senses! Captivated by the possibilities of these new and natural ways to flavour drinks and cocktails, I ordered Michael Dietsch’s book called Shrubs and am currently going through it to find more ideas.

My fridge is starting to look like a hodge podge of jars, what with all this marmalade and jelly and shrub-making! I’m OK with that.