The last two days have been "Food Days". That's what I call days that I spend almost entirely in my kitchen. Thankfully, I don't really need to do Food Days on a regular basis--most of the tasks that I need to do to pre-prep for upcoming meals (usually thinking up to three days out) can be done while I am preparing that evening's supper.
However, yesterday and today I have been doing preserves. Which, to me, is kind of a big deal.
When I was a child, I remember my parents having a vegetable garden until I was about nine. I did some weeding in it, but not tons, and then when they built a house, it ended up in the spot the garden had been. For various and sundry reasons, the gardening stopped at that point--right when I may have begun to benefit from the gardening knowledge I now feel lacking. (Thank goodness I have been able to still pick the brains of my parents at this point of my "farming" career, even if I lack hands-on experience.) However, I do have hazy memories of my mom doing one or two "canning" days when I was small, and all I remember is the heat and the mess and a lot of canned green beans (my least favourite way to consume them)--not really inspirational to try it myself. (Mom, did you ever make jam? I don't remember. I was just too little, I guess.)
My childhood friend Kristy's mom was amazing at canning. I remember seeing a few of her "canning days" too, and being all agog at the number of jars of preserves lining her counter tops as they cooled. Now Kristy carries on that tradition, and we usually get to benefit a little every winter from both her talent and her generosity.
I had never canned anything myself, however, until last summer.
There was a fantastic price on blueberries at one of the local grocery stores, so I went and picked up about four large containers. We like 'em fresh, but I figured I would also give blueberry jam a try. All I needed were some jars, lids, rings, pectin ("No-Sugar-Needed"), apple juice, honey, jar lifter, and a few dozen phone calls to my local canning-expert friend, Robin. The process turned out to be simpler than I thought, and I was so darn proud that I had made jam for my family.
Before the year was out, I had a stove-top canner, and had also preserved some pears and peaches in water, and made applesauce, rosehip jelly and peach chutney. Of all those preserves, we finally opened the last jar just last week--peach chutney to go with our lamb. I also gave some of our treasures away as gifts.
This time, I thought I'd branch out. Over the winter, I had purchased the book Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning: Traditional Techniques, so I cracked the cover and tried the recipe for Sweet & Sour Dark Red Plums. This recipe takes 6 days to complete, because you re-boil the syrup every day for three days, then just let it sit for three days. (I confess, I skipped the three days of sitting and sealed the jars while they were hot. I hope that doesn't botch it up.) I also did my nectarines à la Fruit in Syrup, which uses reduced sugar and doesn't call for a final heat processing, preserving more of the nutrients in the fruit. There were several other interesting-looking recipes which I will be trying over the course of the summer and beyond.
I confess, though, that the one recipe I wanted to try which stumped me was the Uncooked Jelly recipe. It seemed to call for using the pulp instead of the juice, but it was difficult to tell with the wording. Also, the ONLY preservation and thickening agent used was sugar. The jars (I assume) were heat-processed to begin with, but there was no further processing, and other than being told to store it in a "cool, dry place" (which usually means a root cellar), there is no time given for how long they will be good for. All internet searches about uncooked jelly resulted in information saying they should be frozen or refrigerated and consumed within weeks. Sigh. So, I didn't use that one.
Other than that, the book has some really great ideas. It is actually a collection of recipes from the gardeners and farmers of Terre Vivante, France, so the amount of detail in each recipe varies somewhat. I highly recommend the book for anyone wanting to go with more "traditional" methods of preservation.
Other than the plums and nectarines, I now also have rhubarb chutney and peach jam lining my shelves. I just bought some more plums to make jam with today. I dunno--maybe I'm addicted! It is so fun knowing that we will be able to enjoy these treats throughout the long winter to come. And all with a lot less sugar or other preservatives than products I could buy in the store!
Now, all I need is a root cellar to keep everything in...
(still working on it)