Holiday Presents

What a great holiday season! Like many I’m enjoying some time off work, spending time with friends and family and, of course, indulging in delicious food & drink.

Every holiday season comes with the joy of giving and receiving lovely gifts and I’ve been lucky as always with lots of great stuff.

What did I spy under the tree this year but a big, round, oddly-wrapped package which revealed itself to be a gigantic boiling water canner. That’s right, I now have my very own canning equipment, or at least a vital component thereof.

Whoah. This is serious.

Now I have been using my grandma’s canning equipment and I don’t want to dis my grandma’s boiling water canner. Once we swept out the cobwebs it worked perfectly. Sure it had some sedimentary residue, some rust and was a bit tippy, but it worked great, really.

This excellent and thoughtful gift from my parents paired with the comprehensive Ball handbook of canning and preserving will surely signal the beginning of a whole new era in my canning career.

Expect some pretty awesome preserves out of the Covert camp next year. This poor workman will surely not be able to blame her tools (Ak! Will have to come up with another scapegoat for jellies that won’t jell and other problems. Any ideas?)

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America’s Test Kitchen

That’s what Dad said during our last canning jaunt. “How’s it going in America’s Test Kitchen?”

I think the question was rhetorical, but I took it as a compliment nonetheless. Why yes, we are as competent and meticulous as the fine chefs behind one of cooking’s best respected publications .

The truth is that there is quite a lot of science-y type stuff at work when canning & preserving. There are chemical reactions, there’s the sterilizing of instruments, there is precise timing.

With multiple pots on the boil at any time, one sterilizing the jars, lids & tongs (as you can see in this picture) the other filled with a roiling concoction of sugar, vinegar and pureed good stuff from the garden, a person can tend to feel like a mad scientist. Either that or one of Macbeth’s witches.

So what did the long Thanksgiving weekend bring? A trip to the only grocery store open on holiday Monday ( thank you Rideau St. Metro!), more chopping of the (hopefully) final crop of jalapeños and 12 gorgeous little jars of our now-famous jalapeño jelly.

Ooh! And here’s an idea: take some cream cheese and a few spoonfuls of the jelly, mush it together and eat it on crackers! Yum. (because on holiday Monday after our big Thanksgiving meal even more food was required).

Seriously, you all are getting some of this so you’ll need the recipe ideas.

The Ball Blue Book

Last year I received an excellent book called The Big Book of Preserving the Harvest and it’s been a great resource on these canning adventures. I researched some basics of canning & found some good recipes too.

But our friend and neighbour Carolyn suggested that the best canning resource ever is the Ball Blue Book. Carolyn should know because she is one of the most prolific and formidable canners out there. Her black cap jam? Mmmmmmm…. And don’t get me started on the chutneys!

What do the Ball people know? Well, they have been at it 100 years, for one thing. They also make all the jars and equipment for canning so they know of which they speak.

The Ball Blue Book is no longer blue, incidentally. Their updated modern look is all lime green and black, looking both sleek and traditional somehow. Way to re-brand for a new audience, Ball!

What arrived in the mail last week but my very own copy courtesy of canning pro Carolyn. It is an excellent resource with clear instructions, good illustrations and troubleshooting tips. Hopefully between Carolyn and Ball we’ll get our act together and figure out why our jellies are more like sauces.

Mum found her old copy of the Ball Blue Book and so we’ll have to do some comparisons. My gut tells me previous editions may not have included recipes for guava and mango preserves…

Joys and Tribulations of Canning

The Labour Day weekend bring the first thoughts of fall and with it the harvest. It seems appropriate to find ways to preserve the harvest and so Mum and I set about our second round of canning projects.

This weekend it was jalapeño-mint jelly and sweet and sour garlic jelly. The mint came from our local Amish produce stand but apart from that everything else came from the bounty of our land.

Ahem, right, what I mean to say is that we had a lot of garlic that somehow (well, I think I know how, actually. I think I harvested it too late) didn’t have it’s outer white papery skin. While this doesn’t present a problem for eating it, it doesn’t make it ideal for storage and so begs to be consumed all at once. While garlic pie and garlic stew and your standard vampire-repellant all seem like great ideas, we settled on a sweet and sour garlic jelly.

One if the best parts about canning is creating the roiling concoction of vinegar, sugar and spices that present both the promise of deliciousness and the risk of danger. In the case of the garlic jelly the recipe called for 50 cloves of garlic to be boiled with 3 cups of while wine vinegar and then left to sit for about a day. If you’ve ever wondered what a medieval doctor’s place of business might have smelled like my guess is that.

Apart from the overwhelming odor permeating the small cottage, everything else went as planned. Hey, we’re practically becoming pros at this! The boiling water bath, the sterilizing the jars, the careful ladeling of the boiling sugar syrup. Check, check and check.

Except for the actual jelly part. So far both jellies are still kinda just liquid in the jars. They look nice. They taste good. But they’re not jelly. They’re barely sauce.

It apparently can take 2 weeks for your jelly to set and I’m hoping this will solve our problem. If not it’ll be back to the drawing board for our jellies to try to re-set them.

Either that or… Garlic juice anyone?

Saints Preserve Us

Sometimes I get all excited about an idea and I have to do it right away. That’s kind if how I got this year when thinking about doing some canning and preserving.

Luckily my Mum is patient, knowledgable and has been dealing with me for 30-ahem-mumble-mumble years and knows what to do when I say “let’s make preserves this weekend, ok, great! Fun! I’m ready, let’s go!”

Last year we make roughly a ton of green tomato chutney courtesy of the tomatoes that never ripened in my front yard. It was delicious and fun to make.

When I say fun, I should probably admit that Mum did most of the heavy lifting in terms of the let’s-make-sure-everyone-we-give-this-to-doesn’t-die-of-botulism side of things. I specialize in the enthusiasm, chopping, and stirring departments.

With our overwhelming garden successes this year it was hard to pick the best candidate for preserving. Sorry, what I meant to say there was that the only thing we had remotely enough of to do anything with was jalapeño peppers.

There is only so much salsa a person can make and so with our pile of jalapenos (under 1 lb.) we decided against filling them with cream cheese and wrapping them in bacon which is what we did last year and made some jalapeño jelly.

And after a hot hour in the kitchen over boiling pots of liquid on the hottest weekend in the last few we have 5 spectacular jars of a sweet and spicy concoction. The jars have a lovely light green colour with flecks of darker green suspended throughout.

And it’s all the more sweet because not only did we can it ourselves but we grew the peppers too.

If anyone had a bumper jalapeño crop I’ll make another batch 🙂

Lodi Resolutions 2010

Garden Bounty

Garden Bounty

Well this is the time of year that we make resolutions and set goals for the year to come, and I thought I’d jot down some areas of improvement for our various Lodi projects for 2010.

First of all, this blog was a New Year’s resolution for 2009 but I resolve to continue to blog about Lodi because I get a lot out of the experience. Plus I think I enjoy a pretty special niche in the blogosphere as one of the very few Lodi bloggers. 😉

Here are a few other goals for Lodi projects in 2010
1) The Golding Farm. This is a big one, but the improvements we made to the Golding Farm property last year were so great that we need to capitalize on this momentum and push through to get things up to a level of being able to rent it out for vacationers. This is no small feat and will take more strategizing, investment and elbow grease, but suffice it to say that Golding Farm improvements are definitely a big goal for 2010.

2) Garden goals
-better organization of garden plots: I want to apply a little more logical structure to the garden next year and plant things in cohesive rows instead of amorphous blobs.
-better labeling of everything we plant in the garden, by name and variety
-better assessment of garden hits and misses (i.e. this variety of tomato is better than this other one) in order to make more informed choices in the future
-grow tomatillos. I got hooked on salsa verde last year and so really want to grow our own tomatillos to keep the supply coming!

3) More and better canning and preserving. One thing I learned as a byproduct of doing the actual gardening was what to do with the stuff you grow. In 2010 I want to be even more strategic about dealing with the fruits (ahem, pun intended) of our labours and improve the ways we preserve the great food we grow. More sauces, jams, salsas, chutneys… here we come!

4) continued improvement of Home Farm grounds. In 2010 I want to continue the work we’ve done on some of the perennial patches on the grounds. We need to tame the raspberry/fern/lily patch right outside the back door of the house in the first set of improvements. I also would like to work my way around the property identifying areas of healthy perennials and removing the weeds to let them grow. This may be a long term project… but we have to start somewhere.

5) create a tame raspberry patch. There is a lot of wild raspberry around our property and I have a theory that if we can tame it and tend it properly it will actually yield delicious raspberries. I will test this theory in 2010 and maybe by 2011 there will be crazy amounts of fruit to allow for Resolution #3.

Ok Coverts–any other Lodi Resolutions you can think of? Getting the tractor going this year, perhaps?

Yes, we CAN!

yes we CAN

yes we CAN

As we speak a giant pot full of a simmering mixture of fruits and spices is on the stove reducing to a sweet, sour, pulpy, hot delicious concoction. Today, for the first time ever, mum and I are canning. Yup, real time, old skool canning. Preserving. Putting up food for the winter.

It was a perfect activity for a Thanksgiving Monday replete with gorgeous fall colours and a pronounced nip in the air. A perfect activity for mother and daughter. A perfect activity to top off the season of our first-ever garden.

I remember thinking earlier in the season that it would be a bit of a stretch to envision myself actually canning, for a number of different reasons. First off I wondered if we would actually be successful enough with our garden to have enough produce to put up (sshh… don’t tell). I also severely doubted my own ability to tackle a project that I see as something that women of past generations inherently have the magical talents to produce, talents that weren’t passed down to my generation.

Turns out that the internet comes in pretty handy and there’s very little talent involved at all. Follow a recipe. Make a few phone calls to your canning expert and you’re golden.

In the interests of full disclosure you should know that none of the produce we’re canning today came from either Lodi or our garden. But the tomatoes for our chutney did come from the front yard of my apartment building in Ottawa and they were looking so forlorn hanging in their unripened state week after week that I can only imagine that they are happier serving a higher purpose in our chutney.

Canning

Canning

Now the most important ingredient in our successful canning experience was of course our canning expert, our friend and Lodi resident Carolyn who helped us get started and then answered some important mid-canning questions. Apart from the important basics she let us know that it doesn’t have to be perfect and that chutneys are very forgiving, which I think is an important quality for our first canning experience!

My grandmother was a great canner and I hope that with one chutney under my belt I can become half as good as her at some point in my life. I’m thinking raspberry jam next summer… ooh, and maybe apple sauce… oh, and of course pickles!

Oh, and by the way, everyone’s getting chutney for Christmas.

Planning the Garden

The Barn at the Home Farm

The Barn at the Home Farm

Recently we started talking about getting down to the logistics around planting this garden that we’ve dreamed up. We started by discussing when we would need to go to Lodi to start planting and it was then we realized that we all had slightly different views on how to plant a garden. Let it be stated for the record that none of us actually knows how to plant a garden, so any discussions are purely theoretical and in no way based on a) fact b) experience or c) knowledge.

There was a faction that was certain that one starts a garden by planting seeds indoors in the winter and tending to their little seedling selves until the ground is thawed and ready to receive them as little plants. Another faction was convinced that a gardener had merely to sprinkle seeds into the soil in order for delicious and hearty vegetables to spring forth in great abundance.

Certain parties tried to remain neutral and suggested consulting experts, reference material or at least Google.

In any case, we are all aware that we need to start planning and at least to start thinking of what we want to grow. Advisers have cautioned against planting too many zucchinis and suggest two plants maximum. I have absolutely no problem with this as I believe that the only good zucchini is a cucumber. I also relish (ahem, pun intended) an overabundance of tomatoes as I’m a huge fan of homemade salsa and have been known to make a fairly decent one, if I do say so myself.

In the Home Farm basement can be found a significant stash of canned produce made by my grandmother. Now she’s been gone for almost 15 years so these jars of dark, viscous vegetable matter are elderly to say the least. My mother has made me promise to help can the aforementioned overabundance of tomatoes and I um, relish the opportunity (sorry, I can’t stop) to follow in my grandmother’s footsteps and become a master canner.

I would guess that many people of my generation don’t have canning in their knowledge base, alongside making the ultimate iPod party playlist and the knowing the rules of Ultimate Frisbee (which I don’t either, by the way). So if I am to can tomatoes with my mother standing in the very kitchen where my grandmother expertly canned in late summer decade after decade, I will definitely need some guidance .

That and the ultimate tomato-canning iPod playlist, of course, which I will have no trouble whipping up.