Savoring the season

Out of any season, I love, love, love how fall smells the most. I love the cinnamon and warm baking apples, roasting nuts, crisp, bright citrus mingled with cloves, the smokey burning leaves. They are some of the most comforting scents, cozy and homey, and they permeate everything like the best aromatherapy you can imagine.

The two preserves I made recently represent two of the most popular profiles this time of year–warm and spiced, and tart and citrus-y–but each offers a slight twist on the traditional.

How could these flavors possibly be wrong?

Warm and spiced (and spiked with wine)?

Fall flavors, take 2

Or tart and citrus-y?

The first is a variation on a riff of a traditional Jewish Passover dish called charoset or charoses, normally an uncooked mixture of apples, honey, nuts, cinnamon, and sweet red wine. Conveniently this also happens to taste exactly like all the delicious, warm, spiced flavors of fall, no religious affiliation needed.

Wine-y apples Best applesauce ever? PossiblyFinishing touches

I’ve spread this on a piece of whole grain bread  instead of jam and stirred it into oatmeal, and imagine a beautiful jar and a bottle of wine would not be unwelcome as a hostess gift (do people still give those?).

On the other end of the spectrum of fall flavors, this cranberry conserve tastes like all the crispness of fall contained in a little jar (given my love of all things tart and sour, say cherries, rhubarb, and plums, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that cranberries are also a favorite).

Simmering orange segments Cranberry, orange, and apricot Boiling

In this conserve, oranges are used whole–that is, skin and all–for a slightly bitter note under the sweet and sour of simmered cranberries and a bit of texture with the crunch of nuts (any you like–walnuts, almonds, or pecans would be traditional, but pistachios would be colorful and tasty as well). It’s amazing as an accompaniment to any upcoming turkey dinners you might have planned, but also delicious on a cream scone or warmed slightly and spread on a ham sandwich.

Jammy Cranberries, conserved

Either of these can be canned, but they can also easily be refrigerated if you aren’t comfortable with the process, or just don’t want to spend the time. It is nice to pop open a jar of fall flavors come mid-January though!

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To-may-to, ta-mah-to

Last weekend I found myself channeling my amazing Italian grandmother as I stood over 30 pounds of tomatoes I kind-of sort-of accidentally-on-purpose brought home. I’m sure this would have been nothing to my grandma in her canning prime (I remember what the cellar of my grandparents’ farmhouse looked like, and the shelf my dad tells me my grandpa built especially for her and her jars), but this was only the second year I’ve put up tomatoes. Go big(ish) or go home, right?

I need to buy stock in the Ball company

It turned out to be a pretty awesome success and I managed to put them all up in one perfect fall Sunday, even with occasional breaks to watch the Browns get their first win and the Bears beat the pants off the Steelers. By the end of the night, I had 22 jars of various sizes and only 2 tablespoons left in the pot. I call that a day well spent.

I had enough tomatoes to experiment with, so I wanted to try three different styles: whole, crushed, and sauced. I found that each style has its pros and cons, but it’s worth making a little of each. As for the type of tomato to use, I like Romas because they’re on the smaller side, which makes them easier to get into jars, and don’t have a ton of water that needs to cook out later, but you can use whatever tomatoes you like to cook with.

So many jars

Since it didn’t occur to me to take in-progress pictures, I’ll try to add some after the few final jars I plan to put up this weekend (just one more basket of tomatoes, I swear!). Otherwise I see a whole lot of pasta sauce in my future, thankfully my dad also sent me his old pasta maker. Or chili. I have plans…

**Quick note–These acidification, headspace, and timing guidelines all come from the National Center for Home Food Preservation, which is a fantastic resource on canning in general. You can also check out my Canning 101 post from last year for some tips.**

Whole or Halved Tomatoes

Pros: About as straight-forward as it gets. Whole tomatoes have the least amount of hands-on time (though that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the fastest or most fool-proof, see Cons). They can be transformed into crushed tomatoes or sauce depending on what you decide to make later.

Cons: While they’re faster to get into the jars, they take twice as long to process compared to sauce or crushed tomatoes. They also seem to have a higher chance of not sealing due to the air bubbles that inevitably get trapped in the tomatoes. It’s also hard to get whole tomatoes in anything smaller than a pint jar (very annoying if you’re left with just three and a half peeled tomatoes).

How to: Cut out the tomato stem, cut an X in the skin, quickly blanch in boiling water, and peel off the skins (reserve if you plan to make sauce).

To each hot, prepared jar add 1 tablespoon of bottled lemon juice per pint (a 1/2 teaspoon of salt per jar is optional). Press tomatoes into jars until the spaces between them fill with juice, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Remove any air pockets in the jar and adjust headspace by adding tomatoes as needed (halve or quarter a tomato as needed). Process in a boiling water bath for 85 minutes.

Whole

Whole tomatoes in their own juice (some of the liquid siphoned during canning, but as long as the jar seals, it’s ok).

Crushed Tomatoes

Pros: After canning whole tomatoes exclusively last year, crushed tomatoes might be my new go-to. They’re forgiving in terms of the amount of tomatoes you have and the size of jars you want to use (anything from half pints to quarts will work), and you can used any remaining whole tomatoes (or jars that didn’t seal) to make crushed tomatoes. I also think it feels less rushed than the process for whole tomatoes.

Cons: Really all I can come up with is that it’s a bit messier than canning whole tomatoes.

How to: Cut out the tomato stem, blanch, and peel (save skins for sauce).  Quarter enough tomatoes to measure about 2 cups. Transfer to a large saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Crush tomatoes to release juices.

Continue cooking at a simmer, stirring occasionally, while adding additional peeled, quartered tomatoes as you go. Continue until all tomatoes are added, then boil gently for 5 minutes.

To each hot, prepared jar add 1 tablespoon of bottled lemon juice per pint. Pack tomatoes into jars until the spaces between them fill with juice leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Remove any air pockets in the jar and adjust headspace by adding tomatoes as needed. Process pints in a boiling water bath for 35 minutes.

Crushed

Crushed tomatoes with a lone air bubble.

Tomato Sauce

Pros: Tomato sauce has the potential to use up almost the entire tomato (skins and all), producing the least amount of waste. It’s also easy to adjust the thickness of the sauce depending on how long you let the sauce cook down on the stove before canning, and using the skins also helps to make a thicker sauce. Finally, you don’t have to go through the process of blanching and peeling tomatoes (my least favorite part of the process)

Cons: If you don’t have a good food mill or don’t feel like pressing the sauce through a fine sieve, this is probably not going to be your favorite method.

How to: Wash tomatoes very well. Quarter 6 tomatoes and place in a large saucepan. Crush tomatoes and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to avoid scorching. Add more quartered tomatoes (and any leftover skins from making whole or crushed tomatoes), stirring and crushing as you go. When all tomatoes have been added, boil, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes are soft and juicy, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat.

Working in 2 cup batches, blend tomatoes, skins, and seeds until the sauce is as smooth as you can get it (it won’t be perfect). Press through a fine sieve or food mill to remove large bits of skins and seeds. Discard skins and seeds.

Return sauce to the pan and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to medium-high and boil until volume is reduced by at least one-third for a thin sauce. For a thicker sauce, cook until reduced by half.

To each hot, prepared jar add 1 tablespoon of bottled lemon juice per pint. Pour sauce into jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace (note this is different than for whole or crushed tomatoes). Remove any air pockets in the jar and adjust headspace by adding sauce as needed. Process pints in a boiling water bath for 35 minutes.

Sauced

Sauce made with whole tomatoes, including the skins.

In a rhubarb jam

I feel like I’m trying to make up for lost time. When I first tried rhubarb last year, it was at the very end of its season and it’s hardly the most popular kid on the block when it comes to the freezer case at the grocery store. So now that rhubarb season has come around again–now closer to its end than beginning–I find myself buying it in bunches by the pound (more accurately, 5 pounds). I just can’t get enough of the color, its pretty red to pink to green stalks, or its flavor that reminds me of sour cherries.

Ready to cook

Pie is of course a great way to use up a big bunch, but I don’t want to overload myself on pie before I even get to strawberries, blueberries, cherries, or peaches. Cake is good too, and I’ve simmered a good amount (4 cups chopped) with sugar and water (1 cup of each) and a vanilla bean (split) to make rhubarb syrup (cook for 20-30 minutes and strain) to add to seltzer or slightly more boozy libations that deserve neon bendy straws and a sunny day on the porch.

Jammy

But how to keep a little taste of spring around longer than the last crumbs of baked goods or drops of syrup? Jam, of course. I picked up this cute little cookbook at Chicago’s Printers Row Book Fair last weekend and figured it was just the push I needed.

Stacked

Ginger is a pretty common accompaniment to rhubarb’s tartness, and it’s easy to taste why. The prettiest rosey pink color of the jam looks like it would be overwhelmingly sweet but the tingle of ginger (in raw and candied forms) along with a little bit of sour from strips of lemon zest make this my new favorite thing.

Rhubarb Ginger

I’m usually indifferent to jam stirred into yogurt, but this jam is perfect for that (and hey! pink yogurt! pretty!); I’ve also been spreading it on a slice of whole wheat bread with dried fruit baked in. It would be so perfect with scones or cream biscuits, and I can’t wait to use this in thumbprint cookies, or even some variation on a linzer tart or cookies.

Pink

…Excuse me, I need to go buy 5 more pounds of rhubarb before it’s all gone.

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Fall in five senses

I’m not ashamed to admit it–this time of year, I will let out my inner five-year-old and happily high-kick my way through a pile of leaves as they crunch under my feet. Out of all four seasons, the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile sensations of fall are my favorites. I’ve made it pretty clear that I love summer, but there is something about the way fall hits all of my senses at once that gets me every time.

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The sound of dry leaves skipping down the street in the wind is so unique and only comes this time of year for a few short weeks. The colors make me want to climb a tree and live in the sun-bright yellow, pumpkin-orange, cranberry-red leaves clinging to nut-brown branches, which match the colors flooding the market during its last few weeks outdoors. The smells–burning leaf piles (not as much in the city, but something I remember distinctly growing up), the earthy scent of wet leaves as they start to decompose back into the soil, getting ready for spring–fill the air.

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Canning 101

Late last fall, I bought some concord grapes and cobbled together two little jars of freezer grape jelly (or, more accurately, jam) from a recipe in my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. It was the most amazing grape jam I had ever tasted–not from anything special about the recipe, but just because it looked and tasted like…well, grape jam. And I made it. And when I pulled one of the jars out in February to make a PB&J, it tasted even better. So I told myself that this summer I would learn how to can.

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These pears in syrup brought back such clear memories of going to my grandma’s basement to get a jar of pears, pickled mixed vegetables, or tomatoes from a whole room full of beautifully preserved produce. The things we don’t appreciate at 8 years old…

And can, I have.

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We be jammin’

Sincerest apologies to Bob Marley, I just had the title of this post stuck in my head and it needed an outlet before it would leave me alone.

Cherry Cardamom Rosewater Jam

The past two years, I’ve been vaguely interested in learning how to can…stuff. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to make, all the recipes I ever saw for jam prompted the response “Want some sugar with that sugar?” Eesh. I’m not a huge sweets person to begin with and while I do get cravings for a good PB&J or want something to stir into yogurt, I inevitably end up with about 3/4 of a jar of jam sitting in my fridge for god-knows how long before I throw it out (I do keep the jars though). It seems like such a waste. And I’ve never been a pickle fan, though I have learned to like a little bit of pickle relish on a burger. So what on earth would I can that wouldn’t go to waste? Continue reading