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It has been a tough year, winter over stayed its welcome by several months. In the past it would have been fine. I would have enjoyed the extended ski season and not fretted about my garden. This year was different – I am rehabbing from microfracture repair and in May at  the one year mark of my surgery I was just regaining full strength. But muscle strength was not the issue – I am still working on rebuilding sports confidence and I still have a long way to go before I am back. As a result of the confidence issues, alpine skiing and climbing  has just not been on the menu – yet. Instead of heading to the mountain I waited for spring to arrive so I could get back to one of my other loves – one that does not currently scare the crap out of me – gardening.

It was a cruel for spring to pass me by – the first set of seeds I planted in early spring were lost – to snow – in Portland – in March. WTF. The second set shivered in the ground and finally germinated – two months later. There is a silver lining – as small as it is – I did learn that containers help – they keep the soil warmer. Next year – more things in containers.

The farmers market appears to have suffered as much as me. Greens were really it until the last two weeks. June strawberries were late to the party, it is almost July and the strawberries are just arriving.

To make matters worse – it appears that asparagus opted not to stick around. The sign at the local farmer’s market noted – last weekend for asparagus. That just added insult to injury. With a heavy sigh – I grabbed four pounds and got to work . One of the reasons why I started canning – it extends the season.

Normally when I pickle asparagus I like a little thicker stalk – but given the grower’s “end of life” notice I could not be picky so the pictures here are all  skinny stalks. If you have never had pickled asparagus they pair well with thinly sliced ham – skinny stalks are not so good for that. However, these puppies look like they would be smashing in a bloody mary.

Recipe adapted from “Put ’em Up!” by Sheri Brooks Vinton- makes about 4 pints

4 # asparagus – washed and cut to fit jars

4 cups apple cider vinegar

1 cup water

2 TBS sugar (I used evaporated cane juice)

1/4 cup salt

4 garlic cloves

1 TBS each of mustard seed (I used brown mustard seed) and celery seed

1 tsp of peppercorns

Tightly pack the asparagus into pint (or pint equivalent) jars.* Bring the vinegar, water, salt and sugar to a boil and split the remaining ingredients among your jars. Pour boiling brine into the jars leaving 1/2 inch head space. Wipe rims clean, cap and process for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath canner – turn off stove and leave jars in hot water for another 5 minutes.  Let cool completely and check for seal.

*Note: I ran out of brine and had to quickly make more to fill my jars – lesson learned there is always room for more asparagus in your jar.

It has been a long time since I visited this blog and even longer since I actually posted. I have so many drafts sitting in the folder but none seemed worthy of the time and effort it would take to finish them up. I was doing food challenges but not taking pictures, instead I greedily ate up the duck ham, the carolina style pork and the bacon without taking a moment to record the steps it took to make them.  I would get the stray request to approve a comment, see someone else’s fabulous post, look at my pile of drafts and feel guilty.

  

Spring has now arrived in the pacific northwest and canning season is about to start – this blog started as a canning blog so it seemed like the right time to examine whether I wanted to continue. The answer was yes, but differently.

In the past year, I have learned that I have to limit fruits and sugars in my diet if I want to be healthy. I also learned that to feel really good I need to eat less factory oils (yes canola I am talking about you), grains and dairy and more pasture raised meat and vegetables. As a result of new food choices, I began to learn more about our food system, and the impact on the health and well-being of all of us. I recovered from two surgeries and returned to crossfit. I started curing meats as a result of Mrs. Wheelbarrow and the Yummy Mummy’s brilliant Charcuteapalooza challenge.  Finally, I took the plunge and removed the dog mudpit  lawn from our yard, creating more garden beds. I started canning because I was bored and stuck at home following knee surgery – I am now healed and have so much more in my life than canning.

Living a good life: eating well and sustainably, helping fight food insecurity, being active – that is my life. This blog is an extension of my life and a window into my world and needs to reflect that. Today I tended a garden that feeds me, my poppy broke out of its pod and we harvested our first strawberry. These simple things are worth celebrating.

I am so ready for the November elections an impending zombie attack. 

I may not have canned enough this summer to make it all the way through the winter (thanks for nothing ’10 Portland summer) but I do have enough stocked up to survive a significant siege by brain eating zombies.  

So what’s on the menu if you find yourself at our house helping barricade doors during a night of the living dead? 

1 & 1/2 pints apple sauce

5  pints of green tomato chutney

1 pint of spicy peach chutney

4  pints corn relish

4  pints tarragon beans

4 pints dill pickles

4  pints bread and butter pickles

2 pints plum sauce

1 pint pickled peppers

1 & 1/2 pints peach rum jam

2 pints fig port jam

2 pints apples chile ginger preserves

1 & 1/2 pints plum jam

2 & 1/2 pints blackberry jam

1/2 pint jalapeno jelly

1 pint cherry black pepper jam

1 pint current jelly

1 pint spicy tomato jam

2 pints cherry port sauce

4 pints apricot/blackberry jam

1 & 1/2 pints sweet tomato jam

3 & 1/2 pints salsa verde

We had a cold summer here in Portland – the coldest in 17 years.  Tomatoes, cold weather and rain are not a very good combination.  Unless you had your tomato plants in a warm microclimate spot (or wrapped in Saran Wrap most of the summer like one of my wise neighbors) you, like me, are now faced with a bumper crop of green tomatoes. Now I hear that fried green tomatoes are tasty – but this is a preserving blog and fried green tomatoes don’t keep well in the pantry over the winter so I needed another solution.

Once again Darina Allen came to my rescue.  Ireland (Darina’s home base) has many of the same weather issues as Portland – so her Forgotten Skills of Cooking book had several recipes for preserving green tomatoes.  I selected the green tomato chutney recipe.  Our household has a serious homemade chutney addiction (to the point that we cannot eat store-bought anymore).  Our go-to (we really don’t feel like cooking) meal is to brown organic ground turkey, add in loads of chopped vegetables (cabbage, mushrooms and peppers being our choice) and once close to done throw in a 1/2 pint of chutney and heat through until everything is cooked.  Homemade chutney makes this 10 minute meal amazing.

This chutney recipe is fairly standard – lots of chopping followed by a long simmer with good smells.  I made a few changes given what I had in my pantry; substituting a combination of apple cider/white vinegar for the white wine vinegar and brown sugar for turbinado sugar.

Recipe – adapted from Darina Allen’s Forgotten Skills of Cooking (made 5 1/2 pints)

2 1/4 pound chopped green tomatoes

2 1/4 pound peeled and chopped cooking apples

1 pound onions – chopped

1 1/2 cups white sugar

1 3/4 cup brown sugar

1 pound golden raisins

2 teaspoons ground ginger

2 teaspoons ground allspice

2 teaspoons fresh ground black pepper

3 smashed garlic cloves

1 tablespoon salt

3 cups vinegar

Put all ingredients into a large non-reactive pot and bring to a boil over med heat.  Turn heat down and simmer for 45 minutes – stirring constantly.  Ladle into clean sterile jars.  Process in water-bath canner for 15 minutes.

cherry preserves with goat milk brie

 

She had me at you can serve them with roasted duck breast.  Cherries are still in season and despite the lack of gel factor on my last cherry jam adventure Sherri Brooks Vinton’s Classic Cherry Preserves recipe sucked me in.  Once again I found myself creating cherry carnage in the kitchen by pitting 3 pounds of sweet cherries – this time for Cherry & Black Pepper Preserves.   This recipe results in a rich preserve with a little pepper kick to spice things up.  It goes without saying – use freshly ground pepper to really make this preserve pop.   

coffee grinder makes quick work of peppercorns when large quantities are needed

 

Sheri Brooks Vinton’s book, Put ’em Up, has some great preserving recipes and tips.  I had been using freshly squeezed lemon juice in my recipes – but Sheri says no – use bottled.  The reason – lemons vary in acidity, who knew.  By using bottled lemon juice you get the same level of acidity every time.  Acid is important in preserving to limit bacteria grow and to help with gel set – so consistency is good.   

basic components of a classic jam – fruit, sugar and lemon juice

She is also a proponent of the classic or long cook method of jam making that doesn’t use additional pectin to reach gel set.  A longer cooking time results in a richer jam compared to quick cook methods that use added pectin.  Of course sometimes a little added pectin can assist a classic.  Learning my lesson from the last cherry jam experience – I checked gel set after the alloted boiling time.  Not quite set – boiled a little longer – still not set – and a little bit longer – still not quite set.  So what is a starting to get impatient girl to do – add a little pectin.  I added about a 1/4 of a package of powdered pectin – boiled for a minute and voila – gel set.  Whew!   

Cherry & Black Cherry Preserves Recipe from Sherry Brooks Vinton’s Put ’em Up   

Makes approximately three 1/2 pints   

3 pounds cherries – stemmed and pitted   

1 cup sugar   

1/4 cup bottled lemon juice   

1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper   

additional pectin (if needed)   

Place cherries and a splash of water in a non-reactive pot – heat over medium heat stirring and smashing fruit until mixture boils.  Add sugar, stirring until dissolved, then the lemon juice and pepper.  Continue cooking and stirring until gel set is reached (20+ minutes).  If necessary you can add sprinkle of additional pectin if jam is not setting.  Once set turn heat off and let rest, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.  Ladle into prepared 1/2 pint jars – releasing any trapped air.  Leave approximately 1/4 inch head space.  Process in boiling water canner for 10 minutes.