Vacation time is over. If one can call all the doings in September a vacation, frankly I am glad it is over. Risking sharing too much with the wide wide internets – I am calling September a vacation because my husband wasn’t working. It wasn’t voluntary on his part, and I am ecstatic he is back to work. The less said about that the better.

But because of the vacation I found I needed to concentrate on things other than blogging. But now that I have some time to myself – the blog has returned! Just in time for October’s Can Jam.

Pepper jelly is nothing new, not even for this blog. And I really didn’t feel like making it yesterday. But you know what I did feel like? I felt like eating it for the coming months. There is no way I am actually going to go and buy pepper jelly – so a canning we will go.

Lucky for me I have a next door neighbor who is a true Southern Gentleman. An older Gentleman who has been planting “gardens” all his life. “Gardens” that run into the acre plus size range. Now that he is older he does not need the food he grows, nor does he have the desire to even harvest the food he grows. But he likes growing it, so I oblige him by harvesting some of that which would normally go to the critters.

See how I turned that around there? Like I was doing him a favor. In reality I am spoiled rotten by his generosity and try to get him to take as many jars as I can – but he lives alone and won’t take much. But I try. He also seems to like to keep my life interesting, because as I was harvesting the pepper plants he said – “Oh, be careful. There are some hot ones in there.”

For this year’s batch of pepper jelly I decided to try something different – Pomona’s Universal Pectin. Since I cannot bring myself to bust into a jar that I just canned – we don’t know how things worked out texture and flavor wise. But I can show you the most obvious difference right away.

Banana Pepper Jelly

The one in the middle is from last year.

The calcium makes the jelly “cloudy”. You cannot get the crystal clear set jelly like you can with regular pectin, or using apples. Oh well, guess I won’t be winning the State Fair. Please pardon the weirdness of the photograph. My computer is pushing up daisies and I am having to make do with unfamiliar editing software. Holy color burn batman.

Whatever Pepper You Have Jelly

The Hardware: See the Canning Thing, about 7 pint jars for a double recipe, or a combo of jars to hold 7 pints and fit in your canner in one go.

The Software: this is the basic recipe with regular commercial pectin

3 C Peppers – finely chopped
1 1/2 C Apple Cider Vinegar
6 1/2 C Sugar
1 Pouch Liquid Pectin
1 T Butter

Wash, stem and seed peppers – WEAR YOUR GLOVES REGARDLESS OF HOW MANLY YOU ARE – cut into largish chunks and then toss in food processor to make wee bits. Put peppers, sugar and vinegar into a big pot and bring to an aggressive simmer. Cook for 5 minutes then crank the heat up to get a full rolling boil. Add butter.

While you are waiting for this, take your pouch of pectin and cut the top off, place it in a small glass so that it can sit upright and not ooze all over every-which-way. You’ll need your mad lightening fast kitchen skillz soon.

After you have reached a full boil, grab that handily pre-opened pouch and squeeze the whole thing into your pot – stirring maniacally. Back off on the stirring a bit when you realize that you are overdoing it. Return to a rolling boil and time for 1 full minute then turn off the heat. Do the canning thing, 1/4 inch Head space and BWB process for 10 minutes if you live on the beach. And if you live on the beach I kinda hate you because I don’t. Add a 5 minute penalty for every 1,000 miles in altitude you live above the beach.

Cha, cha, cha, changes …..

The bonus of the universal pectin is that it does not require sugar to set. Regular commercial pectin sets by a reaction of the pectin, acid and sugar content of your mix. If you get any of this off then your set is in danger. There are low sugar setting pectins available, but there isn’t much wiggle room in them either. The universal pectin sets by the chemical reaction between the pectin and calcium. Your package comes with both and instructions on how to make the calcium water.

It also comes with the encouragement to “make your own recipe”. Holy CRAP when does a canning recipe ever say that? And I am sure they mean within safe acid guidelines.

So, here are all the changes I made to use the pectin and some bonehead issues that I faced. And I doubled the recipe. Heh.

Fancy Pectin Banana Pepper Jelly

6 C Banana Peppers, chopped small
4 C Apple Cider Vinegar
9 1/2 C Sugar
5 1/2 t Powdered Universal Pectin
2 T Calcium water
1 T Butter

There are a few changes to the process, you need to measure out a separate bowl with 1/2 C sugar in it and mix the pectin in with that. Put the peppers, vinegar and calcium water in at the start and cook as stated above. When you reach the boil, back off a wee bit and then add the sugar with pectin – stir well until everything is dissolved (at least a minute or 2) then when you are back at a boil, add the rest of the sugar (stirring maniacally) and bring back up to a boil. Add the butter after you get all of the sugar stirred in. Watch for big freaking lumps.

Process as usual.

The Results

No clue. It appears to have set up, but it is possible that it is rock hard. Last year’s batch I used a combination of Banana Peppers and Jalapenos, this year I had only the Bananas (with possible stealth spicy Bananas). We will see … we will see.

Do y’all want to know how I use pepper jelly in my cuisine? I have some secrets.

Finally in the zone, the canning comfort zone. Really, for most people isn’t this why they got into canning in the first place? Solanum lycopersicum, the garden tomato. When reading through plant catalogs it is the siren of summer, with her beguiling aliases: Mortgage Lifter, Brandywine, Cherokee Purple, Cuore Di Bue, Green Zebra … She seduces you into ordering dozens of plants with the anticipation of this very moment, the canning of the tomato.

Was there ever any doubt what this month’s can jam theme would be? It had to be her. And as comforting as this ingredient is to me, it was still hard. Hard to do something other than make sauce. Because I horde sauce. I dream of sauce. I have nightmares about running out of sauce. There can never be enough sauce in my larder to make me think that I have enough.

But sauce is pretty boring, and I wanted to do something a little interesting. Not all like crazy weird I’ll never use the product, but something a little more complex. So I allotted some of my precious tomatoes to this task – and if tasting is any indication it was an acceptable gamble.

Canned Pizza Sauce

The Hardware: see The Canning Thing, 3 – 4 pint jars (or any combination of half pints and pints to hold between 3 & 4 pints), food mill, potato masher and a cheap a$$ serrated knife. Now, I don’t usually spend a great deal of time on hardware, I just assume if you are cooking you know what you like to cook with. But I want to take a moment to talk about cutting tomatoes.

I am a knife snob. Sharp and strong is the way I like them, I don’t have many but the ones I have are choice. All last year during tomato canning I worked with a combination of my Henkel paring and bread knives, using the paring to cut out cores and such then the bread knife for cutting the bad boys into pieces. This year I had a rude awakening. I realized that the cheap block-o-knives steak knives that my hubby brought into our relationship, the ones that were relegated to the gulag of the junk drawer, were the best knives to use for processing my tomatoes. The pointy tip will cut out bad spots and the serrated “never sharpen” edges saw through tomatoes like buttah. I am chagrined.

Cutting up tomatos

Oh the shame.

The Software:
10 lbs Tomatos
4 Cloves Garlic, mashed
2 t Oregano, dried
3/4 t Black Pepper
2 t Italian Seasoning herb mix
3 C Chopped Onions
2 1/2 t Salt
3 T Brown Sugar
1/2 t Garlic/Chili paste
1 T Lemon Juice per pint

Remove cores and bad spots from tomatoes, slice in half or more depending on size, chuck into goodly sized non-reactive pot. Sprinkle with a bit of salt and squoosh with a potato masher. Bring to a simmer and cook until you can mash the biggest piece on the side of the pot with a spoon. Run through food mill and return to pot. Feed all scraps to chickens.

Add everything else except the lemon juice to the pot and simmer until the onions are soft – run through food mill a second time. (You might want to hold off on the chili paste and add that to taste depending on how spicy you like things.) Return everything to the pot (including the stuff that wouldn’t go through the mill – I like chunkies) and simmer until reduced to desired thickness. You know, pizza sauce thickness ie: thicker than a standard sauce but not paste consistency.

Add 1 T of lemon juice per pint and 1 1/2 t for a half pint – fill using your fancy canning gear and stir up a little to mix the lemon in before you lid up. 1/4 inch head-space, Boiling Water Bath for 35 minutes (sea level) adjust for your altitude.

Am I happy?

Yeah, I am happy I made this. Now I can have instant pizza sauce whenever I desire. It was hard, because for that 10 lbs of tomatoes I could have had 4 – 5 pints of sauce. The reducing kills me, I feel like I am simmering away precious tomato goodness. But I know that is silly.

Unfortunately my tomato plants are not producing as I would like this year. I managed to pull this off with home-grown, but if I am to have a larder that will allow me to sleep at night I might have to resort to the farmer’s markets. Tell me truthfully, for you, how much is enough? Do I have a problem?

ps: If I had known then what I know now, I might have held off on my Salsa Verde post and put it here instead. I am afraid that the tomatillo isn’t going to get the face time it should in this months round-up. The green stuff vs the red stuff is a Sophie’s Choice kind of conundrum for me. So take a moment and give some love to the little green guy.

I am going to have to write this in bits and pieces, because for some reason I decided at 9:00 pm that I really needed to make banana muffins. Actually, I decided a couple of hours ago when I pulled 5 frozen bananas out of the freezer and chucked them into a bowl to thaw. Of course, I didn’t have a recipe to speak of, so I had to trawl food blogs for one.

This one from Whipped caught my eye. And I had had my hubby get a bag of chopped pecans out of the freezer to thaw – so it looked like good planning. Maple Pecans Banana Bread – how awesome!

Except I had too many Bananas so I decided to double the recipe. Then I didn’t have enough butter or Maple Syrup – so I made up the difference in fat with canola oil and in sweet with honey. And I was using eggs from my chicken flock, who apparently failed to attend the USDA standard egg sizing class – so I had to finagle the number of eggs I was using.

Who knows how it will come out? It’s a Mystery. But that isn’t why I am posting this evening. I wanted to share with you a little slice of my life:

A truck on the kitchen counter

The view from in front of my stove/oven.

Here I am cooking along merrily (I made Avgolemono soup for dinner – we ate it with a side of left over homemade Parmesan nuggets. Yay meal planning not) and this is what I see when I glance to my right. Here’s the thing, it doesn’t bother me at all. My approach to housekeeping is, how shall we say, flexible. But it isn’t that I am completely lazy, I think I just have different priorities.

I don’t mind that there are toys strewn all over my house. That when I go to get in bed and flip my covers into something resembling a sleep-able bed I uncover several cars who had been residing in the “garage” that had been built out of my quilt. And this view, this view is something that makes me happier than I have ever been in my life.

I am sure I should be trying to impart some responsibility or some such approved parenting stuff by making my little man clean up all of his toys and keep them in one spot. But you know what? My stuff is all over the house too, it’s my house. It’s his house too, I don’t believe in restricting him to one designated room that can be closed off so that we can pretend that there isn’t a child in the house and everything is presentable.

It took us five years to have this child. The process of having him almost killed me – but it was worth it. Every time I glance up and see a little reminder that he is in my life I am happy. This little truck, standing sentinel over my cooking while he sleeps away in his bed keeps him close to me. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

It has been well over a year since I started this blog and somehow I have managed to keep it completely … shall we say … mundane. I have managed to keep the subject focused on … umm … modern food. You who have been reading this (if this is the only venue by which you know me) have remained blissfully unaware of my … hobby.

Yes, a great deal of ellipses have gone into the crafting of that paragraph – for good reason. This is the equivalent of a foodie skeleton in the closet, or pantry if you will. While I love cooking for my family and finding new and interesting recipes to cook, my true source for passionate inspiration is a wee bit older.

Like 16th century or earlier older.

And those recipes require a great deal more creativity in cooking and interpreting. Which is what makes them so fun. But this weeks inaugural SummerFest subject has brought this dirty little secret out into the light. Because I have a recipe that I must share with you. And you must make it, if you like cucumbers.

Cucumber, Onion & Basil Salad –

An interpretation of a dish described in Salvatore Massonio’s Archidipno overo dell’insalata e dell’vso di essa, published in Venice in 1627. Translation courtesy of  Louise Smithson

In order that cucumbers more easily pass the stomach eat them with the peel rather than without.  Cut the cucumber in half lengthwise and make of them pieces moderately thin and dress them with oil, vinegar and salt like other salads.  But the custom one has learned is to add several pieces of raw onion and the leaves or sprouts of green basil.  This is not without foundation in art, perhaps it counteracts the natural coldness of moisture of it and makes the juice less large and less slow.

The Hardware: a knife, but a mandolin is also useful, a bowl, a whisk.

The Software:
1 1/2 English Cucumber
1 of an Onion
6 T Olive Oil
2 T White Wine Vinegar
1 3/4 t Salt
16 Grinds Fresh Pepper (or to taste)
2 1/2 t Basil, finely chopped

Combine Olive Oil, Vinegar, Salt, Pepper and Basil and whisk together, set aside. (This also works really well in a glass jar, just dump it all in -  put a lid on it – and shake). Cut cucumber in half lengthwise and then slice in 1/8 in slices. Cut onion in half and slice on Mandolin very thin. At least an hour before you want to eat the salad (and up to 2 hours before) combine the dressing and veggies in a bowl – allow to sit somewhere cold. You know, like a ‘fridge.

Cucumber, Onion & Basil Salad

Blah, Blah, Blah:

This makes a gracious plenty – enough for 12 people. I know that is crazy, but when I cook this style of food I am usually cooking for a minimum of 100 people who are served family style 8 – 12 per table.  This also works beautifully for pot-luck or buffet style service. It can sit for several hours and just get better and better. Save any leftover dressing in your shaking jar in the ‘fridge and you can use it as a base for vinaigrette.

You will notice that there is no mention of olive oil, vinegar, salt or pepper in the original recipe – and that is where the fun of these period recipes come in. You have to read many, many recipes to get a feel for what would have been done. You see, these recipes were not written for the lay person, they were written with the assumption that you are a cook and you know what you are doing already.

With this recipe I had the foundation of having read many vegetable/salad recipes from Bartolomeo Scappi’s 16th century manuscript entitled Opera dell’arte del cucinare.  Based on his description in various recipes I was able to determine that it would have most likely been served in a dressing and how to put that dressing together.

So, do you still love me or do you think I am crazy now?

I asked for it.

In my last Can Jam post for tigress I added a post script, throwing it out there to the canning gods that I would (pretty please with sugar on it) really like for the next jam to include cucumbers. And lo, the canning gods (or at least the goddess over at Laundry Etc) heard my appeal and were generous.

You know what other things in my life were generous – my cucumber vines. They were so crazy that I had a hard time keeping up with their production. Did you know that if you leave a cucumber on the vine long enough it will get gigantic and eventually turn orange? Well, I do now.

Luckily the chickens like overgrown cucumbers – the seedier the better.

To deal with the deluge of cucumbers my mother came over last week and we had our own little pickle jam. It took most of the day but we put up a double batch of Bread & Butter pickles (totaling 12 pints) and a little experiment for me. I only got 6 jars of the B&B’s but all of the experiment, because mom just doesn’t roll that way.

If you want to make the B&B’s check out this previous can jam post on onions. Instead of 16 cups of onions, go with 15 cups of sliced cucumbers and 1 cup of sliced onions. Volia – two for one recipe.

But on to the experiment (I don’t have a picture yet – but tigress asked us to get things up early(er)than we usually do – photo to come done). From my trusty tome on canning The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving I busted out with something I have had bookmarked for quite some time. Actually, I should probably just do away with the bookmarks in this book and just start marking the recipes that I don’t want to do – it would make life easier.

Indian Style Pickle Relish

When you grow your own - they aren't as photogenic.

Indian Style Cucumber Relish (with slight modifications)

The Hardware: see the Canning Thing, slotted spoon, 6 half pint jars (or like I did – 5 half pints and 2 quarter pints).

The Software:
6 C Cucumber (diced, seeded & peeled)
2 C Onions, thinly sliced
1 T Salt, pickling
2 C White Vinegar
1/2 C Sugar
1 T Cumin Seeds
2 t each Brown & Yellow Mustard Seeds
Big pinch whole peppercorns

Put your chopped/sliced veggies in a big bowl and sprinkle with salt – allow to stand for 4 hours (the original recipe said stirring occasionally, I totally forgot this step because I was canning the B&B’s).  Drain, rinse and drain some more. Combine everything else in large, non-reactive, saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Add veggies and return to a boil – hold at boil for 30 seconds.

Using a slotted spoon, pack veggie into jars and then ladle liquid over the relish to head-space of 1/2 inch. Boiling water bath for 10 minutes (half pints) 15 minutes (pints) adjust for altitude.

Conclusion:

The reason that I was so excited about this recipe is not exactly about it’s use as a relish – the book suggests it “peps up” meat dishes – but because of another suggestion the authors make. They say you can mix this stuff with yogurt and poof! instant raita. Instant anything from a canned item makes me oh, so happy. And this has given me another idea – can I make a cucumber relish that has all of the flavors of tzatziki so that I can have that creamy deliciousness on demand? Anyone got a recipe close enough so we can tweak it?

The big experiment in my garden last year was tomatillos. Initially I went around looking for tomatillo plants to put in my garden, but every time I asked about them at a garden center I was regarded as if I had two heads. What is this alien to-mah-taho that you are looking for. Eventually I found a package of seeds and decided to take a whirl at starting at square one.

It was quite a steep learning curve. For the non-gardeners out there I will pass over the gory details – but in the end everything came out all right. Better than all right in fact, because I ended up canning many, many jars of Salsa Verde. It was a fairly painful process finding the best recipe to yield the results I desired – but there were no, true, failures. And as per usual, I ended up modifying to get my own.

A baby Tomatillo in my Garden

One of the most disappointing recipes was the one from the University of New Mexico – I thought that if anyone would get it right it would be them, but it was a no go. The flavor was fine, but the end texture wasn’t particularly salsa like. Imagine taking a super chunky salsa, dumping it into a strainer over your sink and allowing it to drain for about 15 minutes – that is the textural quality of the UNM recipe. While it didn’t fly as a salsa – I did use it to great success as a green chili starter. Chuck a jar of it plus a jar of water or stock into a saucepan (or crockpot) along with a can of beans and meat of your choice and you have some delicious chili.

The UNM recipe was the second one I tried – and it turns out the first one was much more successful. From Married with Dinner this Salsa Verde was much closer to what I was looking for – although I can handle much less heat. So for my third try I went back to this recipe and tinkered with it until I produced something I wanted to eat directly from the jar with a spoon. With apologies to the lovely MWD couple – I like mine better.

All of this left me with jars and jars of Salsa Verde for the “off season” months – their consumption a chore to which I applied my most willing efforts. Hence the subject of this “Using It”.

Taco with Tomatillo Salsa

So very much better than Moe's.

Taco Verde

The husband was out of town, but I still felt like busting out the tortilla press and comal to make my own tortillas – because they are simply that much better than store bought. Starting with leftover, shredded chicken in a small saucepan I stirred in enough Salsa Verde to make it saucy and reheated. While that was coming to temp I made the tortillas and from there it was a simple matter of assembly. Tortilla + chicken verde + cojita cheese + Flashy Trout Back baby Romain from my mother’s garden. Wonderfully delicious with a balanced tangy, salty flavor on a corn tortilla that actually tastes like corn. I know my mother probably thought that the tortilla press I asked for for Christmas was going to go into the pile ‘o gadgets-that-looked-like-fun-but-are-actually-a-pain-in-the-butt-and-will-be-in-my-next-yard-sale, but it didn’t. I have been using and loving it since January.

Salsa Verde (You totally thought I was being a tease, didn’t you?)

The Hardware: see The Canning Thing, a food mill, food processor (or a knife you know), 3 to 4 pint jars, paper bag.

The Software:
3 – 3 1/2 lbs of Tomatillos
1 1/2 C Onions, chopped
1 Aneheim Chilie
1 Poblano Chilie
1 T Chopped Jalepeno
6 cloves Garlic, Minced
2 T Cilantro, finely chopped
1T + 1t Cumin
1t Salt
1/8 C Lime Juice
3/8 C Apple Cider Vinegar

Preheat your broiler to High. Peel the husks off of your tomatillos and wash off all of the icky sticky stuff – I use a vegetable brush. Also wash your peppers. Remove their stems and cut the tomatillos in half across the equator, place cut side down on a foil lined cookie sheet. Cut the peppers in half longitudinally and remove stems and seeds, place cut side down on the cookie sheet also – you will most likely need 2 cookie sheets, or do two batches. Whichever floats your boat.

Place under the broiler for about 7 minutes, until they start turning a little bit black/brown on the top. Remove from the roaster and place the chilies into a paper bag or bowl covered with plastic wrap. Drain the liquid from the cookie sheet into a saucepan and dump the tomatillos into a food processor and then chopity chop – don’t puree, but get down to smallish pieces. Dump tomatillios into saucepan. Remove the chilies from the steaming device and remove skin. Chop these puppies up also and put them in the saucepan.

Put everything else except the cilantro into the saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes and then pass through a food mill with the big hole setting – do not discard the stuff that won’t go through the mill. Return everything (even the chunkies) to the pot and bring to a simmer, add cilantro and adjust seasonings to taste. The do the canning thing. Leave 1/2 inch headspace and boiling water bath for 15 minutes adjusted for your altitude (here in Atlanta I add another 5 min).

Conclusion:

When I adjusted the seasonings I added some garlic powder and additional lime juice – you can always add more acid to taste, but don’t reduce. Having this in my larder has been a menu changing event. We eat it as frequently as we can, but always keeping an eye on the remaining quantity because we don’t want to run out.

Other uses have included smearing it on the first tortilla into the pan when we make quesadillas, enchiladas and various salsa like applications such as tacos, taco salads and consumption with chips. If you have any other ideas what I can put this on, please let me know!

Things I did well this month:

1) Be a Mommy
2) SCA
3) Keep one step ahead of the Vegetable Garden
4) Knit
5) Crochet

Things that did not go quite as well this month:

1) Updating Blog
2) Can Jam
3) Sleeping
4) Quest for world domination via chickens

I am afraid that canning this month took a back seat to other commitments (and a horrible new obsession called Ravelry). But I did squeeze in a little time for tigress’s can jam theme …erries. And luckily my mother came through with the ‘erries. She trucked down to the Atlanta State Farmer’s Market and picked up a metric butt tonne of strawberries. So many, in fact, that she was unable to process them all and gave a half a flat to me.

This made my choice of ‘errie quite easy because, hey, FREE!!! Now I love strawberries and I really didn’t feel like doing anything creative or fancy – I just wanted to taste Strawberries. So with a complete lack of creativity and originality I followed the instructions in the enclosure for the packages of Sure-Jel low Sugar Pectin.

Mostly.

And I got this:

Strawberry Jam on Ice Cream

Move over chocolate, now there's something 'errier!

Which, frankly, I couldn’t ask for more. I can now make my son’s ubiquitous PB&J’s with home-made jam. Totally HFCS free without a mortgage! And I will be on the lookout for Blackberry season to make some plain ole blackberry jam for the same nefarious purpose.

No recipe for today because I really did use the one in the Sur-Jel packet. The only thing I did slightly different is that I didn’t use a potato masher to “mash” the berries. Really, who does that? I tried it, I laid some berries out in a glass pan and took the masher to them – they laughed heartily at my efforts and I was all “That ain’t gonna fly” and chucked them into the food processor. Other than that, it was jam by the book, er, pamphlet, er, insert.

So in conclusion, strawberries are delicious enough to not need to be mucked about with – do you have anything that falls into that category for you?

ps: I hope that someone is seriously considering cucumbers for next month’s theme because I, um … over-planted a wee bit.

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