Preserving the Bounty
|Right Food for the Season - Early Winter|
|Written by Robin Cohen|
Like a happy squirrel, I checked my stores of winter survival foods as the holidays began this year; grabbing a variety of jams and a large jar of garlicky pickles from the cool basement shelves, retrieving carefully wrapped beets and carrots from the small refrigerator that I jokingly call my root cellar. I sorted through piles of flat packages of frozen berries that represented the summer bounty of local fruit farms. Soon my kitchen was filled with festive fare for parties, house guests, and gifts.
If the close of the Farmers’ Market and CSA season has left you feeling empty inside, you can extend the harvest next year by canning and preserve what you buy during the spring, summer, and fall. Even a few simple ideas can fill your house with the flavor of sunshine during a long, snowy New England winter.
One of the best ways to have the sweet taste of berries all year long is to buy or pick them at the peak of ripeness and then freeze them. Clean and sort your berries as soon as you get them home and lay them out on small cookie sheets lined with wax paper. Freeze solid and then pack the berries into freezer weight plastic bags. Frozen berries are great for making syrups, sauces, and for baking. They are a bit too soft when thawed to use for decorating which is best reserved for fresh fruits. One tip for using frozen berries is to place them frozen into quick breads, muffins, and other baked treats for the best flavor and texture.
Canning is a wonderful way to preserve all of your summer favorites. Cucumbers and many other vegetables make wonderful pickles, tomatoes can be packed whole or made into delicious pasta and pizza sauces, and all of the summer fruits can be blended with sugar to make delicious jams. Jam and pickles are the best canned foods to work with for the novice canner. They are easy to make and require only boiling water bath canning rather than more involved steam methods.
The best place to begin is to invest in a few canning basics including the Ball Blue Book which has all the rules and instructions for safe preserving methods, a large pot, some glass canning jars with lids, a jar lifter, and a jar rack. Next, you will need to decide what you want to preserve. During the summer, you will have many choices but right now a great food to work with is cranberries. There are plenty of local cranberries available in supermarkets and even some winter farmers markets and you might even have some left over from Thanksgiving.
I hope you will try my cranberry apple jam recipe below and build the skills to keep local food on your table all year long.
Cranberry Apple Jam
12 ounces of cranberries (fresh or frozen)
1 large tart apple (peeled, cored and chopped)
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 cup apple cider
1 cup water
2 cups sugar
Cook cranberries, apples and cinnamon stick in cider and water until tender. Remove the cinnamon stick and process mixture in a food processor. Return to the pan and add sugar. Boil until mixture jells (test by dropping a spoonful on a chilled plate). Ladle the hot jam into 4 prepared half-pint jars. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes (see Ball Blue Book for detailed instructions on processing canned foods including jam).
This jam can also be frozen.
About Robin (excerpted from her blog Doves and Figs):
I have been cooking since I was about five when my Dad responded to my pleas for an Easy Bake oven toy by introducing me to the real oven. My Dad is an amazing baker and cook and my Mom knows how to make everyone feel like the most important guest she has ever entertained. The simplest last minute picnic and the most elaborate parties were done with care when I was growing up as they are today. I learned that the littlest things delivered with thoughtfulness and open arms and a generous heart make people feel special. That is why I cook, that is why I write, that is how I try to live. Cookies for everyone!