Refrigerator Dill Pickles

Canning, Preserving and Freezing, Oh My!

It’s that time of year again…The time to save some of your harvest for use during the winter. My three favorite methods include canning, preserving and freezing. I also dry things like fruit or tomatoes from time to time too.

Living on the side of a mountain has its perks. It’s cooler up here than down in the valley, even though we’ve had some miserably hot days this summer all together, we tend to get a bit more rain and you can’t beat the view! Well the view isn’t really a perk I suppose, but it’s enjoyable none the less. I’m an ocean/water girl by nature, but I have to say this view has really, really grown on me.

The bad thing about living on the side of a mountain in the middle of nowhere Central Maryland is the wildlife! Daily residents in our yard include ground hogs, who are voracious little rats, rabbits, who are pretty voracious themselves, deer, who well are pretty voracious too, along with a sundry other creatures (including a few SNAKES eek!) that all mill about. The thing these beasties have in common? They love to eat anything that I plant in my “garden”!

Meet one of our resident groundhogs:

One of our resident groundhogs: AKA Satan

Or Satan as I have dubbed him. Sure he looks all sweet and cute sitting there munching on rotten apples that have fallen from the tree, which I’m more than happy to share with him and his little fuzzy family, but he’s really an evil little thief of massive proportions! Don’t let his charming little demeanor fool you…This guy is trouble!

Despite having numerous tomato plants this year all of the ripe ones have been eaten by the deer, ground hogs and rabbits before I have gotten to enjoy them. Luckily we have a few nice Farmer’s Markets around the area each week as well as a nearby orchard that has a multitude of various fruits and vegetables so I’ve been buying my tomatoes from them.

I have beautiful tomatoes:

Green Tomato

But once this sucker starts turning the least bit red one of my yard critters will end up eating it before I get the chance. Excuse me while I grumble a moment about evil animals…..

Where was I?

Tomatoes!

The only type of tomatoes I’ve grown this year they haven’t munched is my cherry tomatoes:

Cherry Tomatoes

And let me tell you these little guys are good, but sometimes you want something a little bigger than these little gems.

Tomato Sauce

For the past few years toward the end of summer I’ve purchased bushels upon bushels of what they call “second tomatoes”. What are second tomatoes? They’re the tomatoes that grow into a weird shape, or have a blemish here, or a spot there. There is nothing wrong with these tomatoes, but some people can’t see past their “ugly” (And I use this term sarcastically…Who cares what it looks like as long as it tastes ok??!!?!) exterior. You may have to cut a spot out here or there, but they are still perfectly good tomatoes to eat, can or even freeze. Don’t let the look of something fool you. You know like the groundhog we mentioned above! ;oP

The National Center for Home Food Preservation has a bevy of information if you’re interested in preserving your own food. They have detailed information on the methods you need to use and their instructions on canning is invaluable. The recipes, the techniques and everything are right there. My mom got their “cookbook” a few years ago and I’ve used the soup out of that thing! I use their water bath method to can my tomatoes and tomato sauce.

I also like to take fresh fruit and make fruit fillings for desserts during the winter by freezing them for use later. So far this summer I’ve froze several jars of peach, cherry and blueberry fillings. It’s extremely easy to do these, you just cook them with a little sugar until the berries are soft. You remove the fruit from the heat, let it cool (it will thicken as it cools) and then place the mixture in a wide mouthed quart sized glass jar with an inch of head room at the top, put the lid on and then freeze them.

How easy is that?

To use the fillings you just take them out of the freezer, let them thaw and then you can make pie, cake, pastries, sauce, ice cream, etc. The blueberries just go in whole, with the juice and zest of a lemon, the cherries just have to be pitted and the peaches peeled, pitted and mashed. As I mentioned above you add a little sugar and cook until the fruit is soft. These little fillings are pretty easy to do and taste better than anything you’d ever buy at the grocery store.

Another favorite thing this time of year for me is pickling cucumbers! These cucumbers have such a lovely, crisp, fresh taste and as their name implies they make fabulous pickles! I’m going to share with you a really simple, quick refrigerator pickle that are simply fabulous! Let’s get to it shall we?

Refrigerator Dill Pickles

What You’ll Need For The Refrigerator Dill Pickles:
1/4 cup of black peppercorns
1 tablespoon of sea salt
2 teaspoons of organic cane sugar
2-4 cloves of garlic, crushed (optional)
2 tablespoons of dried dill
~OR~
1 bunch of fresh dill
Pickling cucumbers (Note: These are the smaller, crisp cucumbers that are abundant during the summer.)
1 1/2 cups of vinegar (Note: I like apple cider vinegar for this, but you can use plain white vinegar instead.)
Water

Place peppercorns, sea salt, sugar, garlic and dill in a quart sized canning jar. Slice cucumbers and add to the jar until you reach 1/2 inch from the top of the jar. Pour in vinegar and then fill up the rest of the jar with water. Give the jar a shake to mix up the ingredients and place in the fridge for at least 24 hours before serving.

Pickles last about 2 months in the fridge.

Notes: You could also add in some red or Vidalia onion strips to the mix as well.

Oven Dried Tomatoes

Oven Dried Tomatoes

Some people turn up their nose at sun dried tomatoes, but I’m a huge fan. I love their sweet, concentrated burst of flavor! You can get the same type of results by oven drying any basic tomato, and its especially fun to do with those late season tomatoes, that you might have a lot of right about now. It’s a simple way to dry your tomatoes to be used later in any recipe that calls for sun dried tomatoes, or even just as a fabulous, healthy snack!

What You’ll Need:
Tomatoes

Preheat oven to 200 F.

Oven Dried Tomatoes: Plum Tomatoes

Rinse and dry your tomatoes. You can use any type of tomatoes you like. This go around I used plum tomatoes, but I like to do this method with cherry or grape tomatoes too. If you use cherry/grape tomatoes you can skip the next step and go straight to the “drying” process.

Slice tomatoes and lay out on a baking sheet that has been lined with a silicone baking sheet:

Oven Dried Tomatoes: Ready to Dry

Some people add herbs, salt or even sugar at this point, but I like to do them plain.

Bake for 4-6 hours checking every 30 minutes or so until completely “dried”:

Oven Dried Tomatoes: Done!

Remove from oven and let cool completely. Store in an airtight container. (Note: If you store them in the fridge they’ll last a very long time.)

Notes: No notes for this one!

Labor Day Signals the Last Hurrah of Summer

Canning Tomatoes 2009

Labor Day signals the last big hurrah of the summer season. With summer winding down, the ready availability of fresh, local produce is also starting to come to end. But fear not, September and October still provide many opportunities to not only enjoy the last of the season, but also prolong it for use during the winter.

There are several different methods to preserve food to use during the winter. Canning, freezing and drying come immediately to mind, because I’ve been doing a little of all three over the past couple of weeks. I’ve been canning tomatoes and salsa, drying herbs and freezing squash, zucchini, okra and green beans. Today I’m going to talk a little bit about canning.

Canning is one of those old time arts that is seeing a bit of a comeback over the past few years as people try to eat more healthily and locally. Canning scares some people though, because if it is not done properly there can be some issues. Don’t let that keep you from trying it however! The process of canning, while a bit time consuming and yes maybe even a little messy, really is quite easy, and the rewards continue well after the growing season is over.

Canning has always been a part of my life. I remember as child my mother and grandmother canning foods. I also recall lovely, hearty soups and chili through out the winter, made particularly with the tomatoes that had been canned the summer before. Nothing compares to home canned tomatoes, just like nothing compares to a big, juicy, vine ripened tomato.

There are two main methods of canning, pressure canning or canning in a water bath. If you’ve never canned before I recommend starting at the National Center for Home Food Preservation. They have a wealth of information on their website alone, not to mention their various publications to get your started. My mom got me one of their guides last year and the information (and recipes) in the book are amazing!

For my first round of canning I did mostly diced tomatoes. I started out with 40 pounds of tomatoes that we acquired from our CSA and ended up with 17 jars of canned tomatoes. Three of those jars were crushed, two were whole and the remainder were diced. I like to use these in soups and chili.

The next day I headed over to our local orchard and had decided to get 4 or 5 big tomatoes to make a small batch of salsa, not for canning, but for immediate use. When I got there though I could get the bundle of 5 tomatoes for one price or for $4 more I could get 28 pounds. I went with the 28 pounds! With this bunch I made a small batch of salsa plus ended up with 8 1/2 quarts of tomato sauce.

Tomatoes aren’t the only thing you can can either. My also mom cans green beans. You can can everything from potatoes to squash to pickles to fruit jams. The book I have even has recipes and ideas for canning soups, meats, shellfish, the list goes on and on. The key is canning it while it’s fresh to enjoy when winter rolls around and the choices at your local market aren’t as fresh, local, or as appealing.

So I’m curious…Who out there cans? How about freezing or drying? Leave me a comment (and or recipe) below! I love hearing what other people are doing with their summer harvests!

No Cook Blueberry Jam

No Cook Blueberry Jam

As I mentioned yesterday Alexis and I went to the orchard after our trip to the library to pick up some blueberries (and of course peas for Miss G)! I just love blueberry season! Blueberries are my favorite fruit, followed closely by watermelon and fresh pineapple. In fact if you do a search on Dianne’s Dishes for blueberries you’ll find Blueberry Muffins to Blueberry Ice Cream to Blueberry Cheesecake and everything in between!

I’m a big fan of blueberry jam. In fact I normally get mine from a local company called McCutcheons. I love their jams/jellies/preserves! And as an added bonus they have no high fructose corn syrup in them and use real sugar. That’s always a plus in my book. But I’ve been wanting to try to make some on my own for a while now.

This jam turned out just perfect! The lemon and blueberry go so well together, and it was just the right amount of sweet! It also goes together in no time and you don’t have to fuss with canning or anything either since it’s a fridge or freezer jam. In less than an hour you’ve got yourself some fabulous homemade jam!

No Cook Blueberry Jam: Blueberries

What You’ll Need:
4 pints of blueberries
2/3 cup of organic cane sugar
The zest of one lemon
The juice of one lemon
1 package of Ball Freezer Jam Fruit Pectin

Rinse berries and pick over them to ensure there are no stems. Mash berries well:

No Cook Blueberry Jam: Mashed Blueberries

If there are a few blueberries that don’t get mashed that’s ok.

Add the zest and juice of one lemon:

No Cook Blueberry Jam: Lemon Zest

Also add the organic cane sugar:

No Cook Blueberry Jam: Organic Cane Sugar

Stir to mix well:

No Cook Blueberry Jam: Mixed and Ready for Pectin

Add pectin 1 tablespoon at a time:

No Cook Blueberry Jam: Pectin

And then stir until mixed in. Repeat this process until the pectin is completely gone and well mixed in to the blueberry mixture:

No Cook Blueberry Jam: Ready for Jars

Stir for 3-4 minutes and then you’re ready to store. I like to use canning jars. Using a funnel ladle the mixture into the jar:

No Cook Blueberry Jam

Be sure not to fill the jars quite full, especially if you’re going to store this in the freezer:

No Cook Blueberry Jam

This will give you about 3 1/2 pints:

No Cook Blueberry Jam

The one that was going in the fridge I filled a little more full than those going into the freezer.

Let sit for 30 minutes and voila…Jam!

Store in the fridge for 4-6 weeks or the freezer for 10-12 months.

No Cook Blueberry Jam

Notes: This method should work with other types of fruits and berries too. Next up I want to try peaches!

Strawberry and Rhubarb Jam

Strawberry Rhubarb Jam

This past weekend I was restless. With Alexis not being able to be around people the last few weeks due to her illness and their concerns that she might pick up something else on top of what she already had, I was more than tired of being in our house, looking at the same walls. While I’m a homebody of the biggest sort for the most part, if I HAVE to stay somewhere without the choice to go out, then I get a bit stir crazy!

On Saturday I decided to get out and run some errands. Jamison was at home, so I didn’t have to worry about how I was going to keep my very social, very friendly, “I love people!” child from interacting with folks who might be carrying this germ or that that her system might not be able to handle yet, and left her at home with “Dad” as she calls him, while I went and got a few things done.

When I finished doing what I needed to do, I didn’t feel like rushing straight home. Jamison was watching Miss G so I decided to take another route home. I would say more scenic, but this whole area is scenic, so it was beautiful either way. It’s spring, the trees are either sprouting or entirely green and the whole world is just stunning! Other than spring allergies that come from these pollinating beings, this is why I love spring!

I was driving along, and yes singing my songs, when I remembered that it was now May and that meant the orchard was open! I decided to pop over and see if they had any peas yet, because ours are still growing and not producing yet, and Alexis loves her some peas! She’s always liked them, so I thought I’d drop by to see if they had any. They didn’t, but I was pleasantly surprised to find some strawberries!

I’ll confess no matter what time of year, you’ll usually find strawberries in the fridge as they are another of Miss G’s favorite things. But there is just something about a plant ripened, local strawberry that makes spring so fun! The taste of fresh, ripe strawberries just can’t be beat! I picked up a container, along with some spinach and spring onions and headed home. The strawberries were so good I just had to run over and get some more on Tuesday and this time when I went they had rhubarb too!

Rhubarb is one of those things you either like or you don’t. I hear people talking about it each spring, and I’ll admit I’ve had rhubarb all of once, when I experimented with it a couple of years ago, but I just couldn’t pass up those beautiful stalks when I saw them on Tuesday, so I picked up a couple of bunches along with the strawberries and headed home. But what was I going to do with them?

I decided that it would be fun to try and make a strawberry rhubarb jam and I was very pleased with the results. (I also made a strawberry rhubarb cobbler…You’ll most likely see that one next week!) The jam ended up being tart, but with just the right hint of sweetness. I’m not a fan of overly sugary jams, and if you’ve ever looked at jam recipes most of them call for inordinate amounts of sugar! 1 cup of fruit to 1 cup of sugar in a lot of cases and let me just say that is more than sugar overkill! Fresh, ripe fruit doesn’t need a lot of sugar, it just needs a bit to compliment the flavor and that’s what I’ve done here.

So if you like strawberries, rhubarb and a little tang, this is the jam for you!

Note: You can can this, or store it in the fridge. I’m not going to give you canning instructions because although I do can from time to time I’m not an expert. You can get more information from the National Canning Center. They have a great page set up to tell you exactly what to do!

This was also the first time I used pectin. I’ve used gelatin in the past, but wanted to try something different. I thought for a while it was going to be more like Strawberry Rhubarb Syrup, but overnight it firmed right up! I was very pleased.

What You’ll Need:
6 cups of strawberries, chopped (Note: I like to have big chunks of fruit, but you can chop the fruit and fine or as coarse as you like.)
4 cups of rhubarb, chopped
1 cup of sugar
The zest of one lemon
The juice of one lemon
4 teaspoons of pectin
4 teaspoons of calcium water

Strawberry Rhubarb Jam: Strawberries and Rhubarb

Chop fruit and pour into a large stock pot, stir to mix. Add sugar, lemon zest and lemon juice and stir to coat. Let sit for an hour or until juice forms.

Once liquid has formed bring mixture to a quick boil. Reduce heat and cook for 10-20 minutes or until the fruit starts breaking down. You want a soupy mixture, with tender fruit.

Strawberry Rhubarb Jam: Ready to Seal

Once mixture is soupy and tender remove from heat. Remove 2 cups of the mixture and place in a glass bowl. Whisk in pectin and calcium water (Note: I’ve never used pectin before. I used Pomona’s Pectin and I don’t know if pectin usually uses calcium water or if that is just a Pomona thing.) into the removed strawberry/rhubarb mixture until relatively smooth and then dump this back into the pot and stir until mixed.

Strawberry Rhubarb Jam: Setting

At this point you can either can the mixture or you can store it in the fridge. I canned it and ended up with two quart jars. I would have preferred smaller jars, but I didn’t have the lids.

And there you have jam!

Notes: As I mentioned in the intro I wasn’t sure if this was going to set up. I made this around three yesterday and there was a warning on the box that pectin continues hardening until the mixture is completely cool. When I came upstairs last night at 8 the jars were still warm and the mixture was not set. When I went down to the kitchen this morning it had set nicely! Also if you wanted to add more sugar you could, but I liked the slightly sweet, slightly tart results.

Pumpkin Apple Butter

Pumpkin Apple Butter

This is a fall time favorite of mine! The apple sort of fades into the background and sweetens the pumpkins. The combination together is very scrumptious. Try it and see!

What You’ll Need:

2 cups of fresh pumpkin puree (Note: If you don’t have fresh pumpkin or would rather not bother with it you can use 1 – 15 ounce can of pumpkin instead.)
2 peeled and grated apple (Note: Any type of apple will do. I normally use Fujis or Galas.)
1 cup of unsweetened apple juice
1/2 cup of Natural Dark Brown Sugar (Note: Any type of natural brown sugar will do.)
1 tsp of cinnamon
1/2 tsp of ground cloves
1/2 tsp of nutmeg

In a large pot dump in all ingredients and stir. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook for 1 1/2 hours stirring from time to time. Apples will break down and mixture will thicken slightly.

You can either freeze this mixture if you like or you can store it in the fridge. Once in the fridge it will last 2-3 weeks. Serve on toast, biscuits, etc.

This recipe can easily be doubled, tripled, etc. Also it’s very forgiving so a little more of something or a little less won’t matter.

Pumpkin Apple Butter

Notes: You could substitute maple syrup or honey for the brown sugar. Any natural sugar will work.