I have so been longing to do some canning. Every time I go out into the garage I am exposed to all the reasons I need to do so. I see my canning kettle on the shelf, lonely and longing for some hard work. The rows of empty jars taunt me, waiting to be filled. And my pantry shelves look barren, with a few jars of Meyer lemon/vanilla marmalade and hot pepper jelly the lone wolves from last year’s endeavors.
So Brilliant Daughter (BD) and I cooked up a plan to can over the 4th of July weekend. On Friday we drove south to LJB Farms to pick up the produce. Owner Judy Bonino walked us around the barn, giving us tastes of the various apricots and cherries, making recommendations for the produce that should be used right now for canning. We settled on a box of Blenheim apricots, which they had just gotten in that week. Also on our roll-around cart was a box of Santa Lucia peaches, firm but sweet and juicy, and a big box of pickling cucumbers. For our own immediate gratification, we bought some Rainier cherries to nosh on and makings for salsa (pasillas, tomatoes, garlic, onions). Brilliant Daughter makes a great roasted tomato salsa that we’ll be enjoying after a long day of canning.
We headed for home, car full of wonderful smells, ready to hatch a plan of attack. We’d be up bright and early on Saturday, ready for a hard day’s work putting the produce to good use. Little did I realize at the time how exhausting it all would be!
We began with pickles. We figured that if we started out with the house smelling like vinegar, it would be eliminated (or masked) later by the sweet smells of the jams cooking. I’d much rather end the day with a house smelling like peaches than of pickles, wouldn’t you?
After bathing the little cukes in the kitchen sink, we set about slicing and dicing. In addition to using the cucumbers whole, we cut in half, cut into spears, sliced into thick coins, and got out the mandoline to make fancier crinkle-cuts.
We did dill (fresh from the garden), garlic dill, spicy, spicy dill, and bread and butter pickles—24 quarts in all. Well, 25, but one broke in the canning bath……
Next we broke out the apricots. Blenheims have a short picking season, during early summer, so this was the peak time to put these little golden orbs to use. A vanishing species with many of their orchards paved over in favor of housing developments and office parks, it is small dedicated growers that keep this species alive. A favorite of Alice Waters, Blenheims are smaller than other apricots, but their flavor more than makes up for it. Sweet and juicy, they are perfect for the apricot preserves and apricot/vanilla jam, not to mention a tangy barbecue sauce.
As we readied the apricots for the first batch of preserves, we found that peeling might take most of the day, and, in measuring up the fruit with necessary ingredients, found we were woefully lacking in both jars and sugar. So BD kindly went out and purchased me a food mill, two cases of half-pint jars and another 5 pounds of sugar. As we moved on to apricot/vanilla jam, we realized that our frozen stock of Meyer lemon juice (in cubes) had been unknowingly depleted, so an emergency text was sent to Butcher Son to bring home lemon juice and 5 more pounds of sugar on his lunch break. Usually prepared and organized, I felt a bit overwhelmed at the quantity we were attempting and apparently I underestimated just about every ingredient. Lesson learned.
I got the idea for the apricot/vanilla jam by looking up recommended companion flavors for apricots in The Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg. We had purchased a pound of vanilla bean pods, and this was a perfect excuse to use them. To 10 pounds of apricots I added 6 vanilla beans. I scraped out the juicy bits first, and then threw the whole pod in to simmer in some additional flavor, pulling them out right before ladling the jam into jars. The resulting jam was sweet but smooth, with a good hint of vanilla. You can see the little flecks of vanilla floating in the jam.
I also wanted to use the apricots in something other than jam. I don’t do chutneys, sambals, chow chows, or other relishes, so I decided on barbecue sauce. Tomatoes, apricots, brown sugar, cider vinegar and a few other goodies bubbled away for several hours, cooking down into a thick rich, fairly sweet sauce. We tested it out on chicken that night and it was definitely a hit. I think it would work well on pork, too.
Santa Lucia peaches were up next. These were large, fairly firm peaches that were easy to peel and very tasty. It was hard not to sneak a taste as we peeled and sliced. I knew I wanted to make peach/ginger jam, and diced up 3/4 cup of ginger early in the day and left it soaking in simple syrup while we worked on everything else. I added this to the 5 pounds of fruit and it was the perfect amount.
The second peach jam was born out of The Flavor Bible and BD’s brilliant mind. Brown sugar is listed as a good flavor combination with peaches in the book, but BD wanted to amp it up somehow. She came up with the idea of adding cinnamon and making peach cobbler jam. That girl knows how to call ‘em. The resulting concoction tastes just like peach cobbler and was, by far, the favorite flavor of the weekend. (We taste tested on blueberry pancakes.) We substituted the brown sugar for the white (minus 1 cup) and added 1 tablespoon of good quality cinnamon and 5 cinnamon sticks to the jam as it cooked.
As if we didn’t do enough, BD also made her roasted tomato salsa. While she didn’t make a huge batch, it was enough to allow us to snack for the next week or two, and helped to take all the sweetness out of our mouths for a short period of time.
TOTAL WEEKEND TALLY
24 quarts of pickles
15 half-pints apricot/vanilla jam
10 half-pints apricot preserves
9 half-pints peach/ginger jam
9 half-pints peach cobbler jam
3 quarts tangy apricot barbecue sauce
1 1/2 quarts roasted tomato salsa
Needless to say, we were exhausted after both days. The hot tub and a cool drink helped to ease the pain and the full pantry put a smile on our faces. However we shan’t be retiring the canning kettle just yet. We are determined to rest up and go for round two at the end of the month. Still need to make strawberry jam, tomato sauce and some marinara. Stay tuned….