My patio container jalapenos are doing well this year. The individual peppers are quite large. I prefer the ripe ones to the green, myself, so I let these go unpicked until today, when I noticed that a few of them were starting to shrivel.I used a few of them right away in a burrito dish.And sliced the rest for pickling.The recipe was pretty simple, there isn’t anything extra in the jars this time. It’s common to include onions and carrots, cloves of garlic and olive oil but these are plain. Brine is 3 cups white vinegar, one cup water, 2 tbsp each of sugar and pickling salt. I did smash 2 cloves of garlic to simmer with the brine but discarded those before pouring the hot liquid over the raw slices. Boil in a water bath for 10 minutes.
Before I head out of town again, thought I’d leave you with some fall harvest photos. Sadly they are not mine.
My youngest brother had a bumper crop this year in his garden. He called last night to give me a final tally of the canning and freezing he and my sister-in-law did. Sounds like they are set for the winter….and spring…and possibly next summer as well.
The summer in NE was hot, so their bean crop was very late, but still abundant. Sounds like the cucumbers overran the place, so there was lots of relish. The yukon golds got so big, one was almost enough for a family of 3 for dinner. And of course if you’re going to grow your veggies big, your bugs will follow suit. And I pretty sure I see some room on that shelf for apple butter, don’t you?
This is how I spent my weekend. How’d you spend yours? Do anything fun?
(Updated. See final tally at end of post)
Adventures in Apple Butter
It all started with a tree:
A tree filled with crab apples. And a desire to see them not go to waste. It took me 20 minutes to pick a 5 gallon bucket full. I grabbed a few green apples from a neighboring tree to top it off.
Then it was home to wash them. And wash them and wash them.
I washed 4 sinks full and washed them each three times, culling the bad ones each time. A couple of things about crab apples:
- Bad ones float right to the top.
- Black spots always go all the way through the apple – took me about 10 to figure this out – so you can’t cut out the bad stuff.
- They seem to suffer from blossom rot, if the stems pulled out they had blossom rot and were rotten throughout.
- Unlike the green apples next to them, I saw no evidence of worms or bugs in any apple. Whew!
Once I figured this out, culling them was pretty quick. But the thing you need to know is that no matter how much you cull a few bad ones are going to slip through. Just the nature of their size. So if that is going to make you queasy, cooking with crab apples probably isn’t for you.
I used three tools for the apple butter and without them I don’t think I would have gone to the trouble. I cooked them (basically steamed them) in my pressure cooker, I pureed them in my Vita-Mix and I cooked the apple butter down in my slow-cooker. I can’t imagine the amount of work it would have taken without these.
Next step was to pressure cook them. Whole: peels, seeds, stems and all. I added about 1 cup of water and the steamer tray to my pressure cooker and then I cooked them for 25 minutes. Which is probably a bit long, but that made sure they were good and mushy before the blending stage.
After cooling each batch a bit, I ran them through the Vita-Mix – peels, stems, seeds and all. Keep in mind the seeds are minuscule and the stems are smaller than grape stems and cooked tender. To puree this in a hand puree’er would be to lose much of the texture and flavors of the whole crab apples. You’d also lose a good portion of your tiny apples.
After running it through the Vita-Mix, I added about 1/2 cup sugar and 1 tbsp of pumpkin spice (cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg) for each 6 cups of puree.
Then the mixture was added to the slow-cooker, filled to about 2 inches from the top. Set the slow-cooker on low and use a wooden spoon to prop the lid open to let the steam escape. Because what you want is for the mixture to cook down by half and caramelize. This takes 8-12 hours. After the first batch, when the sides browned a little too much, I stirred the next batches every hour or so to keep it from burning. After it cooked down and was the consistency I was looking for, I did it all over again.
As you can see, there is still a lot to do. I am cooking the next batch of apples as I put this blog post together. I only jarred two pints – these are not canned and will need to be refrigerated – one to use here and one to take to work tomorrow. The rest I plan to can tomorrow night when all the butter is cooked. I’m planning on both pints and 1/2 pints, most of which I will give away. I still don’t have a good idea how much this is going to make, but I’ll wager 6 additional pints and 6 half pints. I’ll update you when it’s all done. Oh, and by the way, it tastes amazing. And all weekend long my house smelled like fall.
UPDATED: Final tally was 12 pints and 12 half pints. I canned all but 3 pints and 4 half pints which were given away immediately to friends and neighbors with instructions to keep refrigerated. I never expected it to make so much.
Saturday I made another batch of the salsa verde with the tomatillos and various green peppers I bought at this week’s farmer’s market. I had in the back of my mind making the same sort of salsa from red peppers. Red salsas are common but they are all red from tomatoes, at least it seems that way. I bought enough red bells and marconis yesterday to at least give my idea a trial run. I picked up a handful of fresh, bright red cayennes that I thought might work in it. Didn’t decide to go with the hot ones until today when all the others were cut up and ready for the pot.
I followed the same general plan as for the green salsa I linked to above and ended up with just a tad more than two pints. I pressure canned those, and the surplus went into the fridge. Almost afraid to taste it, but I will. Any day now, I promise.
Rather than try to freeze the leftover soup we thought to try to can the stuff. Have had spotty success with things like pea soup and ham ‘n beans. I suppose reading the canning recommendations on times and temps would have been useful.
Most if not all of the failures we have suffered are as a result of winging it, extrapolating from canning tomato sauces and the like. Low acid foods just aren’t suitable for water bath methods. I won’t bother to link to the canning tables but for veggies and meats a pressure canner is a must, and the times are much longer than I would have guessed. 90 minutes at 10#, and that is after a good 10 minutes and longer at a full boil with the little weight off the vent, blowing all the air out. Again, I’m not going to link any “how to” sites, just Google them up–most states have official guidelines and I’ll bet there are multiple federal agencies all too happy to tell you all you need to know.
Anyway, I gave these babies the full hour and a half with the “rocker” weight dancing atop the cooker lid. This morning they all look fine. I found this explanation of “headspace” to be useful.
Something else that is seasonal, aside from the local fruits and produce, are Vidalia onions. They don’t keep well so you have to use em up pretty quick. They make killer onion rings, are great sliced on burgers, and caramelized, on about anything. I bought a bag yesterday and was wondering what to do with it. Last time I bought a quantity I made some French onion soup that was just great. Sweet? You betcha!
I Googled around a bit and came up with a recipe for pickled onions that looked easy enough. Recipe called for 3 cups of white vinegar, 1/2 cup of sugar, a tablespoon of salt, and some pickling spices. And some onions, natch.
I scrounged up all the white vinegar in the house, found 4 cups, so I used all of it, boosted the quantities of the sugar and salt to match, and made up a spice bag from some cheesecloth filled with a commercial pickling spice mix.
I had visions of thick sliced of pickled onion on sammiches so at first I just sliced the onions into discs but right away I realized that the real world was going to squash that dream. I ended up with my trusty dough scraping/cutting tool trying to keep my fingers from getting scalded in the hot vinegar as I chopped the onions up some.
Anyway, the process is simple enough, bring the vinegar with the spice bag to a boil, stir in the sugar and salt, then the onions, simmer them for a little while, 2-3 minutes maybe. Dump the onions into clean jars and ladle the vinegar to cover. They’ll keep in the fridge for a long time just like that. I kept one jar out to put in the fridge, and pressure canned two more quarts. Those two are cooling down in the canner as I type this.
Bought a juice machine last year and did all the juicing we could stand. Apples, strawberries, kiwis, pineapples, oranges and more. Decided the machine just wasn’t very good for what we wanted. Much of the output was foamy and the foam never settled. The juice under all the foam was fine, but there just wasn’t that much. Don’t ask about the carrot juice. The machine set on a shelf till today.
Another bucket of tomatoes from the garden got me to thinking about it again. Gave it a shot. Didn’t bother to skin the tomatoes, just sliced them into chunks that the machine could digest and ran them through. Plenty of foam again but we were willing to see if it would go away when the juice was cooked down for canning. Yay! The foam disappeared. It looks like the machine has found its niche.