The upcoming Delaware State Fair — opening July 19 — has been on my mind a lot recently as those of us in the culinary department have been lining up the judges who will make the decisions about the items that you, the exhibitors, bring in for competition. Since I do not have a degree in home economics or in food science, I hope you’ll understand that the information that I pass along to you comes essentially from two very reliable and well-documented websites: http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_home.html and http://www.freshpreserving.com/home.aspx. This is some of the same information that the judges have been reviewing and will use in their evaluations.
Some of you may have memories of your mother or grandmother slaving in a hot (non-air-conditioned) kitchen canning tomatoes or peaches or pickles that they had picked earlier in the day from their gardens. Often they did this out of necessity. Now most of the products that grandma spent hours preserving are readily available at the supermarket and today’s “home preservationists” choose to spend the time in their air-conditioned kitchens in order to make gifts to share with others. It was not until the 1990s that the United States Department of Agriculture began testing and standardizing home canning recipes. Prior to that information was basically passed down from mother to daughter and most home preservation recipes did not make mention of the canning method that should be used — either a boiling water bath or by pressure canning.
In a recent newspaper article, Rhea Lanting, an educator with the University of Idaho’s Twin Falls Valley Extension Office points out that today — at a time when there is a resurgence in home canning — too many people rely on a Google search to find recipes. Lanting goes on to say “For example, one Food.com recipe for preserving green beans instructs a person to “fill jars and seal.” Seems straightforward? Not to Lanting. “Green beans must be done in a pressure canner,” Lanting said. ‘This is called processing, and it’s an important step that wasn’t encouraged until the ’90s.”
Ovens and dishwashers are not designed to process fruits and vegetables. Neither can you get a proper seal by simply putting hot jams into hot jars, placing on the lids, screwing down the jar rings and simply turning the jars upside down. And how many of you remember jams that were sealed with paraffin wax. Not a safe way to keep mold and bacteria from growing says the National Council for Home Food Preservation.
Each and every jar that you process, receive as a gift or buy from an arts and crafts vendor should be properly labeled with information that gives you the name of the product, the processing method used — either boiling water bath or pressure canner — and the date that the item was processed. Without this information you are unable to determine how safe the product is to use so why take a chance? The jars should be properly sealed (lid should be absolutely flat) and they should be cleaned. Wipe them down before storing them, giving them as gifts or entering them in the Delaware State Fair.
Page 2 of 3 - Home food preservation is a science and the recipes that can be trusted from the sites mentioned above should not be altered in terms of the amounts of sugar, acid (vinegar or lemon juice) or processing method that the recipe calls for. IF a recipe calls for lemon juice, you should use commercially processed pure lemon juice. The acid in fresh lemons varies according to the type of lemon that is currently in season so why take a chance. You can season your recipes to suit your taste by adjusting the amounts of spices but don’t play around with the basic formula.
In order to have products for judges to use in practice judging, I’ve been busy in our kitchen (with help from Spicer, of course). I’m sharing with you recipes that the judges deemed to be Blue-Ribbon worthy. Check the websites above and have fun in your kitchen. Remember, too, that you want to use the very freshest, unblemished veggies or fruits that you can get or use frozen, unsweetened fruit as I did with the cranberries.
(adapted from "Blue ribbon preserves" by Linda Amendt)
2 1/2 pounds 4-inch baby carrots, trimmed and peeled
2 1/2 cups white wine vinegar
2 1/2 cups distilled water
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons pickling salt
4 cloves garlic, peeled (optional)
4 fresh dill sprigs*
12 whole black peppercorns
4 pint canning jars or 8 (8-ounce) jars with lids and rings
*I used 1 teaspoon of dill seed in place of each sprig of dill.
In a 6- or 8- quart pan over medium-high heat, blanch the carrots for 5 minutes. Remove the carrots from the pan, drain and immediately immerse carrots in ice cold water for about 5 minutes to stop the cooking process. Remove from the water and drain well; set aside. In a 2- or 3-quart stainless steel pan, combine the wine vinegar, distilled water, sugar and salt. Over medium-low heat, gradually heat the mixture, stirring constantly, until the sugar is completely dissolved. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring the syrup to a boil. Reduce the heat and keep the syrup hot until needed. Lay hot, sterilized jars on their sides. Place 1 garlic clove along the inside bottom edge of each jar. Arrange 1 dill spring, stem end down, against the inside of each jar next to the garlic clove. Add 3 peppercorns to each jar. Pack the carrots snugly into the jars with the stem end at the top of the jar. Stand the jars upright. Ladle the hot syrup into the jars, covering the carrots and leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Using a bubble freer or plastic knife, remove any air bubbles. If necessary, add more syrup to maintain the headspace. Wipe the jar rims and threads with a clean, damp cloth. Cover with hot lids and apply screw rings. Process pint jars in a boiling water bath for 30 minutes or 8-ounce jars in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes. Check to be sure all lids have properly sealed. Place any incorrectly sealed jar in the refrigerator and use within a week or two. A note with the recipe suggests that you can make carrot pickle chips by cutting large, peeled carrots into 1/4-inch thick slices. These should be allowed to sit and mellow for several weeks before using.
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(adapted from "Blue ribbon preserves" by Linda Amendt)
2 (16-ounce) bags cranberries, fresh or frozen
1 cup water*
Zested peel of 1 large orange
Zested peel of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon unsalted butter.
3 cups granulated sugar
3 or 4 (8-ounce) canning jars, sterilized with lids and rims
*I placed the juice from the orange and the lemon into a 1-cup measure after they were zested. Then I added enough water to make the 1 cup that is called for in the recipe.
In an 8-quart pan combine the cranberries, water and zests. Over medium heat bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer until all of the skins pop and the cranberries are soft, about 15 to 20 minutes. Stir frequently to prevent sticking. Remove the pan from the heat and immediately stir in the teaspoon of butter until melted. (This should prevent any foam from forming.) Press the cranberries and juice through a food mill or fine-meshed sieve. Discard the skins and seeds. Rinse and dry the 8-quart pan. NOTE: I used a food mill AND the fine-meshed sieve. Return the cranberry pulp to the pan. Stir in the sugar. Over medium-low heat, heat the mixture, stirring constantly, until the sugar is completely dissolved. Increase the heat to medium and bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring frequently. Reduce the heat and simmer until thick – about 15 to 20 minutes. Butter should be thick enough to mound on a spoon. As the butter thickens, stir constantly to prevent sticking. Be careful because as the mixture thickens it will splatter! Remove from heat. Ladle the hot butter into hot, sterilized jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Wipe the jar rims and threads with a clean, damp cloth. Cover with hot lids and apply screw rings. Process jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Check for proper seal.