Let’s Talk Preserving

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.

16 lbs of clean sour cherries

16 lbs of clean sour cherries

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 IMG_20150703_114040104of 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.

Some of the goods! cherry jam on the left, carrot pickles in back, rhubarb jam on the right.

Some of the goods! cherry jam on the left, carrot pickles in back, rhubarb jam on the right.

22 thoughts on “Let’s Talk Preserving

  1. I opened up a can of beans tonight and heated them up in the microwave for a bean burrito. I win! lol! You’re killing it in the kitchen lady. I was drooling reading your post and was suddenly craving pie! Thanks a lot! 🙂

    1. thesingledollar says:

      LOL, I’m sorry 🙂 Can you go run on the beach instead? You certainly win in terms of cost and effort expended!

  2. Ooh, please share your recipes! Our food spending goes up each summer as we buy lots of fresh produce for canning. Strawberry and peach are our favorite jams, and we make lots of tomato sauce and salsa that we pressure can. Would love to expand the repertoire!

    1. thesingledollar says:

      I’m not good enough at this yet to come up with my own recipes 🙂 I’m literally just doing what foodinjars says to do, except substituting powdered for liquid pectin. The sour cherry jam is just six cups of cherries, three cups of sugar, and 2-3 tbsp powdered pectin — makes six half-pints.

      It’s really fun though. And yeah, my food spending is going through the roof right now! I’ll make up for it next winter though.

  3. That’s awesome! I’m hoping to preserve some food myself this summer as well. So far I’ve only made some pesto and dried some oregano, but our growing season starts late so things are just starting to come in.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Yeah, I’m pretty far north too — lots of produce has yet to make a real appearance. I totally want to make and freeze some pesto this summer; something to do with all those pine nuts I bought, hee 🙂

  4. Hannah says:

    I now feel all the more thankful that all my homemade preserves are gifts from my mother-in-law (a prolific gardener and preserver).

    I can never get myself to buy rhubarb because growing up it was so common that it was treated like a weed, but I’ve been into tea/fruit combinations lately (mostly in popsicles), and I would love to try that jam. Actually, if you have any garden space at all, I would recommend trying rhubarb- I think your climate is close to my hometown climate (Minneapolis).

    1. thesingledollar says:

      I don’t, this year, but maybe in future years I will — if so I’ll definitely try rhubarb. It does seem like it’d be easy to grow. Also, on the preserving front, I think some people (presumably like your mother in law) actually enjoy it 🙂 I do — I find chopping and stirring very soothing, and the sight of all those jars is personally satisfying. Even if more people were giving me jam, I think I’d like to do it 🙂 The jam recipe is: 1 extra-strong cup tea (I used two teabags); about 9-10 cups chopped rhubarb; 4 cups sugar; 3 tbsp powdered pectin; stir and bring to a boil, then turn the heat down and add 1 vanilla bean (seeds scraped in first), juice of 1 lemon, and a pinch of salt. Let boil very gently for 15-20 minutes, stirring, until the rhubarb is really broken down, then bring to a rolling boil for five minutes or so, or until a thermometer registers 220 degrees.

      1. Hannah says:

        Remove vanilla bean afterwards, right?

        This seems like the perfect thing for a rhubarb jam bars too!

        1. thesingledollar says:

          Yup, I just slid the bean out at the end. Warning: it’s still fairly liquidy — I’d strain off some of the liquid if you’re going to use them for jam bars. But I agree that it would work brilliantly baked on shortbread!

  5. That sounds like something that would be fun to do with the kids!

    1. thesingledollar says:

      It would! Although probably only older kids — it’s basically all sharp knives and boiling hot water 🙂

  6. Jessica says:

    Yum. I would love to have some fresh jam in the pantry. My mom cans salsa and pickled peppers from her garden and I love receiving goodies from her. I haven’t done any canning myself, although I would consider it if I had more storage space.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      I never did when I lived in NYC. I did make refrigerator pickles and jam sometimes (where you just make a small batch to eat within a few weeks and keep it in the fridge) but the thought of having to store a canning pot etc, not to mention the jars, was too much for me!

  7. I’ve never made jam, but my husband and daughter take PB&J every day, so we go through a lot of it. I’m intimidated by the bacteria warnings and needing to get the temperature just right, but I’m going to check out the blog you mentioned…

    1. thesingledollar says:

      I’m not a chemist, but according to the reading I’ve done, you need to be most worried about low-acid stuff (eg tomatoes.) For most fruit, you don’t need to worry about botulism, and apparently anything else that would go wrong would be visible (you’d have mold or a really weird smell when you opened the jar.) So I’ve quit being too concerned about jam 🙂

  8. Jordan says:

    Great ideas here! I saw a “recipe” for canning once in a book and always wondered if it’d be worth it to try out – it’s looking like it is. Plus, I could make homemade jam to have all year long!

    1. thesingledollar says:

      If you like to cook, it’s definitely worth it.

  9. I’m quite jealous (in the best possible way). I used to go berry picking with my daughters, and then we’d come home and make jam. I miss those days! Since we’ve been doing out debt-reduction mission, I’ve been teaching summer school (4 summers now)- which takes time away from things like berry picking. Many frugal and healthy practices take an initial expense and quite a bit of time – especially when the learning curve is sharp. This “gazelle intensity” thing does get in the way at times. I’m thinking that next summer is my summer to devote to things like berries again. You have officially inspired me : )

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Yay 🙂 I’m lucky that even though I work full time, my daily schedule is incredibly flexible — it’s easy to take a morning and go picking. I’m so happy you’re out of non-mortgage debt now and can relax a bit more next summer and do stuff like this.

  10. ARBM says:

    I have never done any canning myself, but would love to learn how and then do some… When the apples come in, I’d love to can some apple sauce because I use that in baking and cooking all year long… Guess it is time to start doing some learning…

    1. thesingledollar says:

      It actually turns out to be mostly pretty easy. Once I got over the fear of killing myself and everyone I love — canning induces a lot of worry — it’s not very complicated 🙂 Good luck!

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