Monday, January 24, 2011

Gifts From the Pantry and the Heart

Growing up in California gave me access to not only my family's backyard garden but also many amazing orchards in my neighborhood. I loved being able to just walk outside and pick an orange or a tomato whenever I felt like it. As lovely as those memories are, it was our family's annual summer trips to Bremerton, Washington that really peaked my interest. It was there that my Aunt Eleanor would take us into her home. Her larder was always filled with the glistening hues of jars and jars of rich colored jams and bright greens from all of her pickled concoctions. My Aunt used to be one of those "seed testers". She would get new test seeds from companies, plant them and record her findings before they were put out for regular consumers. I'm almost certain that these days, seeds get tested in big laboratories and test green houses. Luckily for me, many of those jars contained items produced by those test seeds.

The highlight for me was always breakfast at her house. Her toaster oven sat on the counter just an arm's length away from the breakfast table. You could toast your bread, pull it out (while still sitting) and then load it up with one of her jams or jellies. I don't have to tell you that for me, it was like being that proverbial kid in the candy store. Though I will always be partial to her "Simply Apricot", I must say that as a tester, she could come up with some amazing concoctions. Most kids get grape jelly or the occasional strawberry jam, but not at Aunt Eleanor's! We would get grape jelly in 5 varieties or conserves with prune, pineapple and walnuts. A tuna sandwich at her house always tasted spectacular because she would add her amazing sweet Walla Walla onion relish to the mixture. Her passion to preserve the season's bounty transcended through her. I could sit for hours listening to her talk about the fruit, what was on sale and whose house she needed to visit to pick up their fruit because it was "jam ready". Yes, just another lovely term she taught me. Whenever we left her house for the drive back to California, she would load us up with a couple boxes filled with cans of her jams, jellies, pickles, preserves and sometimes fresh canned tuna or salmon if a local friend had gone fishing. Those jars would last us most of the year until we went back the next summer.

Over the years, I have gone through my canning phases. When I was first married we had a little garden that supplied an abundance of tomatoes so I would can those. Then, when my gourmet side came out, I would run though recipes like Blueberry Grand Marnier Jam. But I have not been doing as much canning as I should since moving to Texas. I was reminded of this last month when I got the unique opportunity to join other local foodies at the first ATX Foodswappers event. I wasn't really sure what to expect or what I would find at the swap. In a nutshell, the food swap was all about meeting some great people (Megan, Shelley, Kate, Jo, Melanie, Casey, Addie, among others), some amazing canned foods and some awesome gourmet flavors. More importantly, my passion for canning came back! To be honest, I don't know if it was really ever gone or merely hibernating. At any rate, I'm back in the game and I know my Auntie Eleanor would be so proud! I'm starting small because my Aunt always encouraged me to take what is in abundance to make it last. So whether it's a sale on an item at the grocery store or my trees in the backyard are ready to harvest, that's what I will be canning. I vow to make this a part of my way of living rather than simply treat it as a hobby (which is kind of how I always looked at it). One thing I know is that a gift from someone's pantry that's been made from the heart goes a long, long way. And in my case, from Bremerton to sunny California to right here in good old Austin, Texas. I'm jus' sayin'!

Looking ahead to the next food swap, here's a few items I'll be bringing:

Blackberry Vinegar
Courtesy of American Country Living - Canning and Preserving

6 Cups Rice Vinegar
1/4 cup of Sugar
2 Cups Fresh Mashed Blackberries

Heat the vinegar and sugar until it disolves. Do not boil. Pour the vinegar over the mashed berries and cover the glass jar with a tight fitting lid. Leave in a dark, cool place for 2-3 days. Strain through a cheesecloth. Pour into pretty bottles with a light fitting top.

Makes 1 1/2 quarts of vinegar

Hotter than Hades Raspberry Mustard
adapted from Canning & Preserving by Linda Ferrari

3/4 Cup Dry Mustard
2 Tbsp. Mustard Seed
2/3 Cup Water
3 Tbsp. Sugar
2 Tsp. Salt
1/3 Cup Raspberry Puree
2 Tbs. Agave Syrup

Whirl the dry mustard, seed and water in the food processor. Add the sugar and salt. Let sit covered overnight. The next day add the raspberry and agave and process again. Put into jars with tight fitting lids. Store for up to a month in refridgerator. Makes 2 1/4 cup.

*Note - this is HOT! I mean Wasabi Hot.

Spicy Blueberry Citrus Marmalade
Courtesy of Southern Living Magazine

1 Orange
1 Lemon
1 Lime
2 Cups Water
1/2 Tsp Crushed Dried Red Pepper
2 Cups Fresh Blueberries*
2 Cups Sugar

Cut rinds from citrus fruit into thin strips. Set aside. Squeeze juice and pulp from orange, lemon, and lime into a bowl. Set aside.

Bring rind strips, 2 cups water, and red pepper to a boil in a saucepan. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 25 minutes or until rinds are very tender.

Add blueberries, sugar, and citrus pulp and juice to saucepan. Bring to a full rolling boil; boil uncovered and stirring often, 15 minutes or until a gel forms. Remove from heat; skim off any foam.

Pour hot mixture immediately into hot, sterilized jars, filling to 1/4 inch from top. Remove air bubbles; wipe jar rims. Cover at once with metal lids, and screw on bands. Process in boiling water-bath 10 minutes.