Saturday, February 13, 2016

Gitchi Gitchi Ya Ya Da Da

Today's adventures in Master Preservers...we entered the realm of "Fruit Spreads and Syrups" and twice today got to break into groups and create.  The kitchen at the Eureka Co-Op was filled with the smells of lemons, ginger, strawberries and the sounds of crashing pans, timers and laughter.  My group made "Quick" Lemon-Ginger Marmalade. I'm not sure about the "quick" (thus the quotation marks) since much time was spent separating the membrane and seeds but the end results were worth it. I've never been a huge fan of marmalade, probably because commercially created versions are sticky sweet but this version was SO flavorful. I can't wait to recreate it in my own kitchen.  Most of us had some experience with water-bath canning but it's good to correct and adjust our processes and even understand the reasons we do what we do. 

While we made our Lemon-Ginger Marmalade, other groups made a Mango Salsa and Apple Pie filling. The smells were heavenly.  I feel as if we dirtied EVERY bowl and pot in that kitchen on the way to finishing these three projects. After washing the mountainous pile pots and pans followed by a brief lunch break, we gathered in new groups for another project.  This time I worked on a low-sugar blueberry freezer jam (the jury is still out on the flavor of this particular recipe) while the other two groups created Fig Jam with dried figs and Strawberry-Kiwi Jam. Again, the fragrance was so heavenly, we couldn't resist poking our heads into the projects the other groups were working on.  I have plans now to expand my repertoire beyond my beloved blackberry jam and have my sites set on marmalades.  I know exactly what to do the next time I see a great deal on lemons!

This course is so fun, I'm not even sad in giving up my coveted Saturdays. I'm learning so much and am well on my way to being a much more confident canner. Monday evening, we'll do some pickling, including a chutney which is another step outside my comfort zone.  Somewhere in there, I need to conjure up a homework assignment for a class presentation (we each have to do two) and, after the great jobs done by this morning's over-achievers, I have some work to do.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

We Be Jammin'

Since starting the Master Preserver Course, Clostridium botulinums has become part of my vocabulary. Nasty nasty botulism, as opposed to the fun kind of botox the Hollywood types have injected into their skin to smooth out wrinkles (who the HECK thought THAT was a good idea?!) is “an anaerobic, spore-forming rod that produces a potent neurotoxin.The spores are heat-resistant and can survive in foods that are incorrectly or minimally processed…..”.  Yikes!  And the capper?  “Most of the 10 to 30 outbreaks [of foodborne botulism] that are reported annually in the United States are associated with inadequately processed, home-canned foods". (straight from the USDA’s Bad Bug Book).  Ugh! I'm a bit of a rule-rebel but even I can see some rules are based in logic.
After just two class meetings, I have learned that the method of jam-making my mom taught me is “open kettle canning” and, “We don’t recommend it”.  Well, crap!  I haven’t killed anyone but I’ll have to reteach my kids the proper way, instead of Grandma's way. I have also learned that I really SHOULD be removing the canning jar rings when I store my canned product away.  Why?  Any schmutz left under the ring from the canning process could contaminate the ring and cause it to not seal the NEXT jar properly. Not only that but the ring will keep me from noticing a seeping jar which, if not sealed properly, could begin to nurture those nasty little Clostridium botulinums spores, all hidden behind a ring that APPEARS to be sitting pretty on the shelf.
Oh well, I hope to regale y’all of my adventures learning (and, in some cases, relearning)  how to safely and properly “put foods by”. The course will keep me busy for a month of Monday nights and Saturdays, freezing, canning, pickling and dehydrating in order to save the season's harvests. After that, I will be expected to put in some volunteer time proselytizing in the name of safe food preservation, because the recipes and processes recommended by State Cooperative Extensions are vetted..scientifically tested to contain proper processing times and procedures.  I will be available to entertain at a kitchen near you in order to put in my time. It looks to be a fun group I am learning with and learning from.  Look out pickling cukes...I’m comin’ for ya!