Fix Me A Snack

A blog created by a mom who got sick of feeding her kids crackers and ice cream

I clearly remember thinking people who canned peaches were nuts. Heck, my husband was not-so-quietly shaking his head while I was canning some nectarines this summer. But grocery store produce seems increasingly suspect these days. And more importantly, in New England it can be just plain hopeless in the late winter and early spring. Once you’ve gorged yourself on fresh produce all summer long, the stuff flown in from Mexico tastes like cardboard.

To my surprise, a couple comments on my Warm Applesauce post asked for guidance on the canning front. So here are my thoughts just in case you’re interested in canning but aren’t sure where to start. Please know that I still consider myself a novice. When in doubt, please spend some quality time with the National Center for Home Food Preservation guide.

One thing I do know is that not just any recipe can be thrown in a jar and put up safely. The acidity level of the food is important. Follow recipes specifically written with canning in mind. This is super important for every bit of canning you do. No botulism for you!

Be patient with yourself and take your time in gathering equipment and recipes. In the Spring, look for canning supplies at places where farmer’s wives would do some of their shopping: rural grocery stores, the Tractor Supply Company, or even hardware stores. Heck, I’ve even noticed supplies on an end cap at Target the past couple times I’ve been there!

When you’re ready, just jump in and do it. It’s only really going to make sense after you’ve done it a few times. I started out with lots and lots of jam. But I’ve seen Bread & Butter Pickles referred to as a good beginner recipe as well.

(Bare Bones) Equipment and Supplies you will need:

  • Canner with a rack that fits inside
  • Funnel
  • Jar Lifter
  • Mason jars and lids (pint, half pint, or quart-sized depending on what you’ll be canning)
  • Pickling salt (fine-grain salt that contains no idodine)

 

My favorite book for the beginner is The Busy Person’s Guide to Perserving Food. Barbara Kingsolver mentioned this book in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. All the recipes I’ve tried in this book have been stellar and they aren’t overly fussy (e.g. Quick Dill Pickles, Sour Pickles, Pickled Beets) . In addition to all the information on canning, the book contains instructions for freezing, drying, and root cellaring individual foods. This is the first book I’d go to find out how to put up a load of potatoes for the winter, what the best way is to keep blueberries, or how to make raisins.

Another book I’m into lately is Put ‘Em Up by Sherri Brooks Vinton. Her Bread & Butter Pickles have been a huge hit around my house. and the Frozen Roasted Garlic is a keeper. There are a ton of recipes that have peeked my interest, but I have yet to try like Caramelized Onion Confit, Corn Salsa, and Chili-Tomato Jam.

To distract you further, here are a list of links some of which are an endless source of canning information and inspiration:

Food in Jars – Canning 101 Round Up, Homemade Applesauce, Resources

Local Kitchen – Homemade Applesauce

Garden of Eating – How To: Canning

Canning Across America – Resources

Simple Bites – 9 Good Reasons to Can Your Own Food

Good luck!

Blah blah blah…we were strolling through the farmer’s market like our usual wannabe locavore selves and there it was – a big ol’ sunflower head. The person I gave $2.00 to told me to soak the seeds overnight in salty water and roast them.

I completely thought I was going to get stuck with the job of removing the seeds, but my kids went nuts and removed almost all of them themselves. Those little fingers do come in handy.

Once they were all removed we soaked them overnight in a couple cups of water with around 2 tablespoons of dissolved salt.

Then I roasted them on a baking sheet at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes until they started to brown just a bit.

The resulting seeds are a bit tough to crack. I find it easiest to rest the base of a shell on one of my lower molars and gently press down on the tip with an upper molar. It is a bit of a pain. But the perfectly salty little seed is worth the trouble. My 6 year-old loves these. I have to break them open for the younger one. 

The yield was about 1 1/2 cups. Store at room temperature in an airtight container.

Nearly 18 years ago, in Cameroon, someone nonchalantly gave me sugar cane to gnaw on. I clearly remember my amazement over the sweet juices oozing out of what looked like a stalk of bamboo. Having never spent much time wondering where sugar or any of my other food came from, it was an eye opening moment.

Of course, when I tried to recreate that moment for my children it seemed to fall flat. They were extremely excited to try it, evening dancing around the house with the cane and singing songs in it’s honor. But when the moment of truth came, they were a little disappointed by how much work it took to extract the juices. Lazy buggers.

If you cross paths with a piece of sugar cane and want to try it out, here’s what you do:  

1. Wash the cane. Cut off a couple inches at each end.

2. Score the hard outer layer of the cane with a serrated knife. I found it easiest to use the part of the knife closest to my hand for more leverage and pulling toward me when sawing action was required.

3. After the outer layer is cut all the way around it should be easy to cut or break the piece of cane off.

4. Stand the piece on end and cut off the outer layer.

5. If desired, cut the cane into smaller strips or chunks. Serve along with instructions that the cane is to be chewed and sucked on but not swallowed. I did a quick demo for my kids before they dove in.

After all the fun of tasting sugar cane was over, I was curious enough to find a video about how sugar is processed. I used to think white sugar was not nearly as bad as high fructose corn syrup. But I might have been wrong. There’s a mention of sulfur dioxide vapors, powdered lime, and bleach in this video.

[Sigh.]

It’s probably going to take me a couple years to accept this information and do something concrete about it. Has anyone ever tried to cut added sugar out of their family’s diet for a week? Would it be possible?

Is there anything yogurt can’t do?? I strained it for awhile and now I’ve got a tub full of goodness that tastes like a cross between cream cheese and goat cheese. Wonders never cease.

You will need:

32 ounces plain yogurt (fat level is up to you)
a large strainer or medium-sized bowl
clean fabric (about 2 or 3 feet square)
one rubber band

I started with a 32 ounce container of whole milk plain yogurt. I put a strainer over a large mixing bowl and lined the strainer with a large piece of fabric. Muslin would work too as long as the weave is relatively tight. Also, you could use a small bowl if you don’t have a strainer, no problem. I use a strainer because it’s the perfect size to hold the fabric and yogurt while getting started. It’s not required.

Carefully gather up the fabric and fasten it closed with a rubber band wrapping it around a few times until it is secure. Using the rubber band, hang the pouch from a handle or knob. Make sure it is over a large bowl to catch drips. About 4 cups of whey is going to end up in the bowl.

Allow the yogurt to drain for somewhere around three hours. It’s okay for the yogurt to be out at room temperature, as long as it is not an extremely hot day. Gently squeeze the straining yogurt occasionally to help things along. I know it’s done when not much whey is being produced during squeezing.

Transfer the yogurt cheese to an airtight container and keep refrigerated. Makes about 1 cup.