Yes, she can can

I am reading a new book and planning my summer pastimes. It’s not a travel book, though. It’s a canning book.

IMG_3119I was canning before canning was cool, when most people looked it as something their grandmothers did, and far too much trouble. Now, it’s hip. Young singles haunt canning sites on Facebook and see the delicious value in making their own items. Chefs boost their eat-local stock by canning their own sauces and relishes.

So any new book about making pickles, relishes, jams and jellies needs to walk a line between the classic favorites – I dare you to feed me something better than good-old homemade bread and butter pickles – and new-wave creativity. “Pickles and Preserves: A Savor the South Cookbook” by Andrea Weigl (University of North Carolina Press, $18) does that.

Classic Dilly Beans and Fig Preserves are next to Soft Refrigerator Honeysuckle Jelly and Salt-Pickled Cucumbers with Shiso, providing basics for those new to canning and intriguing combinations for experienced canners. None of the recipes are so far out as to intimidate, and the variety will amply stock a pantry.

Many people are frightened off canning by the possibility of giving botulism as holiday gifts. But home canning is not difficult, and if you follow simple guidelines and use the proper equipment, perfectly safe. Weigl, who is the food editor for The News & Observer of Raleigh, N.C., carefully offers well-researched information on the process, along with what not to do and why. (I can’t believe anyone has seriously tried to process canned goods in a dishwasher but the answer from Weigl, and me, is: Just don’t.)

Full disclosure: I contributed a recipe to the book, and have written another in the Savor the South series. I have also begged for figs from Weigl’s neighborhood and intoxicated a book club with Brandied Peaches from her book.

On Wednesday night, March 12, Weigl will talk and sign copies of the book at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, on March 25 at the Barnes & Noble in Cary, and at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill on March 19. Other signings are listed here.

Attack of the green tomatoes

It was time to get ready for fall crops at the neighborhood community garden, so the tomato plants had to

hot green tomato pickles and peach jam

hot green tomato pickles and peach jam

go. As we ripped out the drooping vines, I noticed dozens of green tomatoes. The voice of my mother – the person who saved, flattened out and reused aluminum foil – jumped into my head. “It seems a shame to waste all these tomatoes,” it said through my mouth.

We didn’t think that the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, where most of the garden’s produce goes as part of the Plant a Row for the Hungry program, would want green tomatoes. In a fit of optimism, I took them.

Even after becoming picky and only selecting the largest ones, I could barely drag my bulging bag the two blocks back to my house. There must have been at least 20 pounds of hard, green balls in there.

The green tomatoes led me to violate one of the cardinal rules of entertaining: Never serve to guests a recipe that you’re making for the first time. But I was surrounded by green things, and these were old and tolerant friends who would eat almost anything that wasn’t once hoofed or feathered. I found a green tomato pasta sauce recipe in “Tomatoes: A Savor the South Cookbook” by my friend Miriam Rubin. It was simple – garlic, parsley, some hot peppers and the tomatoes – and I added crabmeat.

It was a success (although linguini might have been a better pasta choice than rigatoni). But if it was followed by The Hub’s chocolate cake, even shredded paper would’ve been proclaimed gourmet, so I had dessert as back-up.

Then I wanted to make green tomato pickles. I had never made them, and had eaten them only once. I purchased a jar for the Thanksgiving relish tray many years ago, and remembered their interesting flavor and texture. I combed through canning books and cobbled the recipe at the end together from several ideas. Easy? Yes. But it will be another week or so before I can say how they taste, because all pickles must sit for a period of time to, well, pickle.

Last night, it was the classic fried green tomatoes with our Labor Day grilled burgers.

The bag is much lighter now, but 20 or so of the greenies still lurk in my kitchen…

Hot Green Tomato Pickles

15 cups cored and sliced 1/4-inch-thick green tomatoes

4 1/2 cups white vinegar

1 tablespoon crushed dried red pepper

2 tablespoons yellow mustard seed

3 cups sugar

1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns

2 teaspoons celery seed

6-7 cloves garlic

In a large saucepan, combine the vinegar, red pepper, mustard seed, sugar, peppercorns and celery seed. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. When the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is boiling, remove from the heat.

Have clean, sanitized pint jars, lids and rims ready. Drop 1 clove garlic into each jar, then pack in the tomatoes. Pour the vinegar mixture over the tomatoes, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Push a wooden skewer gently into the mixture and around the sides to release any air bubbles. Wipe the rims and screw on the lids and rims.

Process the jars in a boiling-water canner for 15 minutes. Remove the jars from the canner and cool on folded towels or racks.

Makes 6-7 pints.



No canning pun here, either

matt lardie divvys up the jars

The jars clustered on a table at Fullsteam Brewery in Durham probably didn’t look like much to the usual beer-drinking, Sunday-afternoon loafers. But to the canning obsessed at the first Triangle Food Bloggers Canning Swap, they were precious jewels. For such a small group, the variety was amazing – bloody mary base, blackberry syrup, watermelon rind pickles, pickled okra, brandied oranges.

The creativity on sparkling display shows that canning has thrown off Grandma’s ratty apron and gone wild. But the reasons that people enjoy canning are the same: Working with local ingredients, creating great flavors that you can’t find in stores and saving a little money.

Here’s how it worked. Participants brought up to five jars of their goodies, and could receive one pick for each jar they brought. Names were drawn from a jar to determine order.

Some brought their first canning efforts. As veterans of more than a decade of pickling and jamming, my canning buddy, Linda, and I felt like the gray-haired (literally) sages. We shared our experience and, in return, received enthusiasm and creative ideas. So the “swap” was for more than tasty jars.

Thanks to Matt Lardie of  Green Eats Blog for organizing the swap.

Here’s a secret that I shared on Sunday: You can make almost any liquid into a jelly. Teas, bottled juices, they all can work. As does an infusion, which was the base for this jelly, my contribution to the swap.

Lovely Lemon Lavender Jelly

Be sure to use chemical-free culinary lavender, not the kind used in potpourris or sachets. I got mine from Bluebird Hill Farm, which sells at the North Hills farmers market.

Zest from 1 large lemon
1 teaspoon dried lavender buds
3 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup white vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 pouch liquid pectin

Place the lemon zest and lavender buds in a large bowl. Pour 2 1/4 cups boiling water over them, cover with a pan lid or aluminum foil and let steep for 1 hour. Strain and reserve the infused liquid.

In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, combine the liquid with the sugar, vinegar and lemon juice. Bring the mixture to a bubbling boil over high heat, stirring constantly. When it is boiling and the sugar is dissolved, stir in the liquid pectin and return the mixture to a bubbling boil. Boil vigorously for 1 minute, or until the mixture passes the jell test.

Ladle the jelly into sterilized half-pint jars and screw on sterilized lids. Process in a boiling-water bath canner for 5 minutes.

Makes about 4 half-pint jars.

No canning pun here

The one drawback to the craze for canning homemade goodies is the overuse of every hoary “can” pun in existence. You will see none here. Hope you don’t find that too jarring.

But you should gather your goodies and attend the first-ever Triangle Food Blogger Canning Swap on July 31, 3 p.m. at Fullsteam Brewery in Durham, N.C. (I fervently hope it’s in the air-conditioned part.) It’s easy. Bring up to five jars of your home-canned jam, jelly, pickles, salsa, sauce, chutney, etc. Names will be drawn from a hat, and you’ll get to swap jar for jar that you bring.

The swap is the brainchild of Matt Lardie of Green Eats Blog. Contact him by tomorrow, June 25, to sign up.

Relishing Thanksgiving

I am already contemplating the contents of my Thanksgiving relish tray. You DO have one on your table, don’t you? I consider it an important grace note to the booming symphony that is the Turkey Day meal.

My family had most Thanksgivings at my grandmother’s. She offered pickled whole peaches and bread-and-butter pickles, both of which she made. Also, red pickled apple rings and olives (purchased), and celery sticks stuffed with a mixture of cream cheese and onions (not technically a pickle, but in the vicinity).

A friend’s mother made pickled cucumber rings that looked like pickled apple rings, and tasted a little like them, too. Large cucumber slices were scooped out in the center and pickled in a sweet mixture that included red food coloring. I suspect this pickle originated as an attempt to use up cukes that were too large for other purposes.

This summer, my pickling and canning was impaired by recovering from a broken left wrist, so I don’t have my usual homemade pickled okra and bread-and-butters. Those I will have to find elsewhere – even if no one eats it but me, I must have pickled okra. Some friends and I were able to make our traditional vegetable relish, which is great on the tray and for turkey sandwiches later.

It wouldn’t feel like a full Thanksgiving meal, to me, without that relish tray. What do you think? What’s on your tray?