Putting Things By

The canning continues, as the produce is coming fast and furious right now.  The morning was spent picking red currants from the bush in the back yard.  With a sore back from bending and swooping around the bush, I took my stash inside and began the process of putting them by.

After a quick dunking in cold water, they all get stripped from their stems.  This is a tedious process that seems to go on and on and on.  (Listening to NPR, I managed to hear all the salient points of President Obama’s Oval Office speech analyzed at least three times!)  The resulting pile of stems helps to explain the cramping fingers.  All told the bush put out a gallon of fruit this year.

The year's harvest

One Gallon of Red Currants

Red Currant Stems

This is the pile of stems from the red currants.

There are actually a small quantity of berries that were not yet ripe, left for a later harvest.  The fruit gets crushed with a potato masher, then goes into a pot with a small bit of water to get the juice flowing.  Bring it to the simmer; cook slowly for about ten minutes, then strain it through a jelly bag.  A JELLY BAG???  All these years of canning and I’ve never bought a jelly bag.  I improvise with a clean floursack towel, some string and a dowel rod, hanging the whole contraption from the kitchen cupboard handle.  In a couple of hours, I’m rewarded with  a precious few cups of crystal clear juice of the most outstanding garnet hue.  I manage to stretch out the clear juice into more than a dozen jars of  Red Currant Jelly.  They appear like jars of liquid rubies.

My research has strenuously warned me not to squeeze the bag in the hopes of extracting more juice.  It has also brought to my attention the possibility of making red currant curd.  This seems too delightful an opportunity to pass up.  After securing my clear juice for jelly, I go ahead and squeeze away, extracting two more cups of liquid that will be perfect for curd.  It’s cloudy with fruit solids.  I taste and find it’s also full of flavor.  This lagniappe is my dirty little secret.  It just seemed a shame after all those hours spent stripping the currants to walk away with such a small harvest of usable product.

The other project this weekend has been pickled carrots.  In past years, I made a green bean and carrot combo.  Word got out and these became one of my most requested canning projects.  Word got back to me, as well, that folks really preferred the carrots over the beans.  Easy enough…they’ve morphed into jars of pickled carrots.  This year, the jars all have a slice of Vidalia onion for flavor;  some of  them also have a split serrano pepper for heat;  there are even some with a garlic scape wound around the inside of the jar.  The scapes were a find at last week’s Farmers’ Market.  I wasn’t sure what to do with them, until a fellow shopper mentioned that she liked to pickle them.  BINGO!  I was already planning on making the carrots and these turned out to be the perfect addition to the jars.

I feel like production is just now ramping up.  There are still gooseberries coming in about two more weeks.  I’ll probably attempt jelly with them, too.  Other recipes on my agenda include Bread-n-Butter Pickles, Giardinera, Raspberry Jam and Pear-Applesauce.  Of course, this is not even accounting for whatever the Farmers’ Market might throw into my path.  Having three things already put by gives me a sense of momentum.  When I started this season, I had five cases of empty jars in the basement and I thought that’d be plenty.  Clearly, they’re not going to be enough.  I’ve learned to buy more jars than I think I’ll need because the stores generally don’t restock their supplies once the initial shipment from Ball gets depleted.  I love doing this work; even moreso, I love opening the jars in the middle of the winter and tasting a bit(e) of summer.

Canning Season Begins

Early Glow Strawberries

Early Glow Strawberries

Yesterday was the official start of canning season.  Eight days ago, on my visit to the Tremont Farmers’ Market, I spied some Early Glow Strawberries at the Woolf Farms stand.  When I asked whether or not they would have them for next week (i.e. last night), she made no promises.  “Get here early if you want them.  They go fast!”  Yesterday I walked up right at 4:00pm when the market opened and got my eight quarts set aside pronto.  They were absolutely gorgeous and everso fragile.  The aroma was simply amazing!  I picked up a few more items,  swung back around for my berries and made my way home to the canning kitchen.

Half-pint Jars, Dome Lids and Bands, Boiling Away

I had already set things up beforehand.  I had the jars in the dishwasher, getting washed and sanitized.  I had my pots of water boiling on the stove (one for jars, one for lids).  My canning kettle was on the stove, ready to receive the fruit. I had all of my implements set out:  wooden spoon, paring knife, colander, potato masher for the fruit, tongs, jar lifter, canning funnel,  measuring cups, dome lids and bands, hot pads, towels, damp dishcloth.  The sugar was at the ready, as well as the liquid pectin.  All I needed to add was the fruit.  I set to work and it went quickly.  Within 90 minutes I was looking at 17 jars of ruby red deliciousness.

Strawberry Sauce on the Stove

Strawberry Sauce on the Stove

Canning season is one of my favorite times of the “kitchen year.”  Capturing the bounty of summer is one of the most satisfying aspects of knowing how to cook.  Making things taste really good is an added bonus!  You can buy a dozen kinds of strawberry jam in any given grocery store, but rarely are they made with local, fresh (not frozen) fruit.  Almost all of them would also be cooked much more thoroughly than how I prepare my jam.  I love to put together unusual pickling combinations.  I have some olde-fashioned recipes and some things that you just can’t find anywhere else.  It’s a pleasure to put things up.  In the fall, when my larder is full, I feel positively rich!