Uh, hi guys. You might have noticed — ok, you probably haven’t noticed — that I haven’t been around much the last week or so.
That’s because I’ve been spending basically all my time either hunting and gathering fruit, or preserving fruit 🙂
I promise this isn’t turning into a food blog, although I am so excited about the recipe I have to share on Wednesday, but hey, canning and preserving are kind of frugal topics, right? Except for the parts where you have to acquire equipment in order to do them 🙂 But as far as I’m concerned, anything to avoid paying for and eating unseasonal berries in February. And actually the equipment’s not so bad. I’ve bought three flats of half-pint jars for about $7.50 each (for 12 jars) and, while I intend to give away a lot of my jams for inexpensive hostess and holiday gifts, I’ll be able to reuse any jars I do hang onto. Other than that, I just use a stockpot, and a jar lifter and wide-mouth funnel that I’ve had for a while now.
First, I went sour-cherry picking again. I loved doing this last year and this year was also really good, though really different. This time, I went on the second day of the season with a friend of mine and a friend of hers. So it was social, and also the cherries were practically dripping off the trees. It only took us about forty minutes to pick as much as we each thought we could handle — I ended up with 16 lbs, one of my friends with 19, the other with 8.
They’re super cheap because you provide most of the labor. Only $1.50 a pound!!! Once you get them weighed, it’s off to the cleaning room, where you dunk them in icy cold water and get rid of any remaining debris (stems, leaves, etc.) They end up in a bucket, and then the main event, the industrial cherry pitter.
Isn’t that cool? The cherries get sorted into a kind of metal honeycomb, and then pins push through them. My 16 pounds took all of two minutes to get pitted! Then I took them outside to bag. I learned a few things from last year, when I didn’t realize you had to bring containers; the orchard has plastic trash bags that they’ll put all your cherries in as a backup and that’s what I did last year, but this year I was prepared not only with quart-sized ziploc bags (exactly the right size for the six cups you need for either jam or a pie filling) but also a cup measure to use as a scoop. Then we had lunch (we’d brought a picnic) and drove home.
At that point, I headed over to a park where someone had told me there were wild blackberries (I figured my fruit-picking mojo was good) but actually it turned out they were wild black raspberries! I ended up paying in blood — so many mosquitoes, oof — but I picked about a quart and they’re currently in my freezer. They really were just starting to ripen so I hope to go back in a couple of weeks and get more (with bug spray. On me, not on the berries.)
Then I came home and made jam. Lots of jam!
The next morning, July 4, I woke up and went straight to the farmer’s market before I’d even had my coffee (!!!) because I knew it’d be crazy later in the morning. I got rhubarb and carrots, among other things, and at the grocery store I got local sweet cherries and a daikon radish. I came home and made cherry pie to take to the party I was going to later, but also sliced the vegetables and rhubarb and pitted the cherries to freeze (I plan to make cherry butter with them, but I’m going to wait a few months because it doesn’t keep as well, once canned, as jam does.) Then, off to the party. The pie lasted all of about five minutes, after taking hours of prep and baking time, but hey, that’s what it’s for 🙂 Someone else had made a truly awesome pulled pork shoulder and there was good homemade coleslaw and all in all, although I was there for the company as much as the food, it was a lovely afternoon.
I decided I preferred a quiet evening to going fireworks-hunting, so I headed home around dusk and got back into the kitchen, pickling the daikon and carrots together with coriander and mustard seeds. By the time I was done cleaning up from all of that I was more than ready to crawl into bed! Today after church I went and bought more jars, having run through my entire supply of half-pints, and then this afternoon I made rhubarb jam with Earl Grey tea and vanilla, which wasn’t much trouble seeing as how I’d cut the rhubarb up yesterday — once that’s done it’s pretty much simmer, stir, and can.
So, at this point I have 12 half-pints of sour cherry jam, 6 half-pints and 1 pint of rhubarb jam, 4 pints of vegetable pickles, and, in the freezer, three quarts of sour cherries, a quart of black raspberries, and about three pounds of pitted sweet cherries, along with two quarts of strawberries that I put up in simple syrup a couple of weeks ago. And blueberries haven’t even come in yet! I hope to have a lot of U-pick blueberries both frozen plain, and jammed, and I also want to get more rhubarb to chop and freeze since it’s good in baked goods. I need to investigate the apricot situation around here, too; I really want to put up apricots in some form, but I don’t know if they grow here. In New York I used to get the most beautiful apricots at the farmer’s market and I’d hate to have to use “imported” ones.
In case you were wondering, I got the recipes I used for all the canning from Food in Jars by Marisa McClellan. It’s a really handy book, but the author also writes a blog, Food in Jars, and she gives out a lot of free advice and recipes there (in fact, I found her last year searching for a basic, unfussy recipe for cherry jam.) It’s really fun to finally get to can, which I’ve wanted to learn to do for years and years; it just never made sense when I lived in New York and had no storage space to spare. But I’ve got plenty of it right now! I’m looking forward to figure out more stuff to preserve in the future.