Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Crabapple Jelly and Nana's Pickles

Crabapple jelly and Nana's pickles are a colourful duo.
Fall is an exciting time. It's when all the produce starts flowing into farmers' markets and tomatoes start ripening on your backyard vine. It's when there's so much bounty that you simply can't eat it all, and that means saving it for later.

I've been pickling since I was a little girl. Some of my fondest memories of my grandmother involve a lot of tears. Not the kind where she gave me a spanking for being bad (because she was totally incapable of such a thing), but the kind where Fall arrived and it was time to put 4 pounds of onions through a meat grinder, to make Nana's pickles. Between learning teamwork skills ("Lia, I can't see. Can you pass me the measuring cup?") and learning self-sacrifice ("Nana, you're crying into the pickles. I'll take over for a while..."), what was there not to love about standing in a kitchen and crying with your grandmother?

Nana and I used to grind the onions and other vegetables in a meat grinder. Now I do it in the food processor and save my eyes slightly. Only slightly. (They wouldn't be Nana's pickles without at least a few tears, after all.)

These pickles became legendary--perhaps because the secret ingredients were Nana's love and a few tears. They've got this amazingly rich sweet onion taste with a hint of curry. They're so addictive that when I got old enough to realize their value, I used to fight my mother for the last jar.

Then there was the year that we made just about every kind of jelly and jam you could imagine: strawberry, raspberry, grape, apple, and even beet (seriously). Needless to say, some had to be given away as gifts.

So you could say I've done my fair share of preserving things, and it's something that's incredibly rewarding. I mean, you go into your pantry months later and still have that beautifully-preserved produce from months before, ready for you to enjoy on your morning toast or veggie burger. And besides which, preserving food is definitely a good skill to have.

If you're new to the idea, don't worry. I've got you covered.



So first things first: let me give you a few reasons why preserving things is awesome. First, if you're pickling (that is, using vinegar to essentially ferment things in a controlled way), you're making food that contains really healthy bacteria that can help keep your body in balance. Pickles are really good for you, as are things like sauerkraut and fermented cheeses or yogurt, if you eat dairy, or tempeh, for vegans.

This setup is a familiar sight for anyone who's canned before.

Second, preserves are usually gluten-free and vegan, meaning that even if you have some pretty significant limitations on what you can eat, you can still probably enjoy a homemade apple jelly or a green cucumber relish. The apple jelly recipe I've included here is even made without adding pectin, if that's an issue for you (it is for some people).

Cucumber, onions and tomatoes. No animal or wheat products here!

And finally, it's really thrifty and avoids food waste. You're talking about making things that can be kept in your cupboard for literally years out of something that would go bad in your fridge in one week. It's really a no-brainer, especially because buying lots of something in season is cheap, fresh and natural, rather than buying commercial strawberry jam all year round for three times the price and having no control over what goes into it.

Processing preserves in a water bath is a big part of making sure they have a long shelf life.

So on to the recipes!

The crabapple jelly has perhaps just as awesome a story as Nana's pickles. I recently joined a group called Hidden Harvest Ottawa, which is an amazing organization that harvests fruit and nuts from otherwise un-tapped food-bearing trees on City and private property (with permission, of course). What's more, a chunk of the food goes to the Food Bank so that people who otherwise can't afford fresh food can access amazing, organic produce.

The thing is, it's all volunteer-run, and as thanks to the people who help harvest the fruit, they get to take some home. (I bet you see where this is going...) The Food Bank guy headed off, and here we had 20 pounds of crabapples sitting in reusable grocery bags, looking painfully unwanted by the rest of the volunteers. My conscience couldn't take it, so I brought 20 pounds of apples home, with no idea what I would do with them. (One can only eat so many pounds of crabapples in their hand...)

The apples were gorgeous. I wish I'd taken pictures of their amazing pinky-red flesh before I made the jelly, but I just got so excited I couldn't contain myself. The colour shows in the jelly: this incredible salmon pink is not so far from the colour that the apples were when I split them open.

The gorgeous deep pink colour of this jelly comes from the natural pigment of the apple flesh. Unlike most apples, which have white flesh, regardless of the colour of the skin, these apples were almost as red inside as they were outside.

As for Nana's pickles, they're really much more of a relish than a pickle, as you can see from the pictures. But since Nana always called them pickles, this old habit has been hard to break. It's a sweet relish that goes so well with pretty much anything. Luxurious onions and cucumbers with a touch of mustard and curry...how could that be anything other than amazing?

I'm sure by now you've guessed the best thing about these two recpies: their flavour is at least as good as their stories.

Crabapple Jelly
Yields...uh...as much as you have apples for

Crabapples
Water
Sugar

Take the stems and blossoms out of the crabapples with a sharp knife and halve the apples. Place in a pot, and fill with enough water that you can see it pooling through the apples, but not until you've covered them completely. Boil the apples for 30-45 minutes, or until they're becoming mushy. Cool the mixture until it can be handled safely without burning yourself!

Using a fine mesh strainer, cheese cloth or a jelly bag (all available wherever you can buy pickling supplies), strain the juice into a bowl, without pressing on the apples to squeeze juice out. In other words, just let it drip. This process will take a couple of hours, and so if you're in a hurry and really need to speed up the process, you can squish the apples to get the juice out, but it's strongly recommended that you re-strain it afterwards to get out some solids. Otherwise, it'll start to be like very sweet applesauce!

Once you've got your apple juice, you'll need to measure it. You're going to put equal parts juice and sugar into a large pot, and you're going to stir it together well. Bring the mixture to a gentle boil, being careful not to let it boil over and stirring often. Reduce the heat as low as you can to keep it on a gentle simmer, and cook the jelly for 35-40 minutes, stirring often.

In the mean time, figure out how many jars you need. The final volume will be approximately the same as the amount of juice you started with.  Wash the jars and flat tops well with warm soapy water, rinsing well. Place the lids into a small pot and boil about 10 minutes, leaving the lids in the pot to stay warm until needed. Place the clean jars (not lids) onto a baking tray or cake pan with sides, and bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes to sterilize. When handling the jars, be very sure to use oven mitts so that you don't burn yourself. The jars should be hot when you put the jelly into them.

To jar the jelly, use a pickling funnel if at all possible. Fill jars to 1/4" from the top of the jar. Once a jar is filled, use a clean, damp cloth to wipe the top and side edges of the jar where the lid will go. It is important to not have any sticky residue here that will prevent the lid from creating an airtight seal. Use tongs to pull a flat top out of the hot water and place on top of the jar, being sure not to touch the "inside" of the cap with your hands. Screw the ring on around the lid only until "fingertip tight" (what I do is I just don't hold the jar as I'm screwing the lid onto the jar, so I can only tighten as tight as the weight of the jar, as it's the only thing keeping the jar from turning with the lid). Repeat with all of the jars. If you have a jar that is not full, you will need to store it in the fridge and eat it as soon as possible, as it can't be properly processed. (The jelly will still stay fresh for a week or two in the fridge.)

Now you're going to want to process your jelly in a water bath. That means you need a pot that is considerably taller than your jars (at least 1 inch). Place the jars in the pot and boil water in a kettle to fill the pot to 1 inch above the tops of the jars. Place over the burner and bring the pot to a boil, cooking for 10 minutes. Remove the jars from the water carefully with tongs, and keep them from getting shaken up. Place them on a cooling rack and let them stand for a day undisturbed. If they seal successfully, the button on the top of the lid will have popped down. If some did not, keep them in the fridge and use them as soon as you can.

This recipe's yield will depend on how many apples you have and how much juice you get. However, the yield will be approximately the same volume of juice you started with, so if that was two litres, you'll end up with two litres of jelly.

FYI, this crabapple jelly is ridiculously good on pancakes. Just saying.

Nana's Pickles
Makes 5 pint jars

2 lb cucumbers
2 lb onions
2 lb tomatoes
2 1/2 cups white vinegar
3 cups sugar
1 Tablespoon salt
1 Tablespoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon curry powder

Preheat the oven to 300°F.

Grind all the vegetables or chop coarsely in a food processor (do not puree!). Place in a very large pot or dutch oven and add vinegar, sugar and salt. Bring to a boil and boil for 30 minutes, stirring regularly to ensure it's not sticking to the bottom of the pot.

In the mean time, prepare your mason jars. Wash the jars and flat tops well with warm soapy water, rinsing well. Place the lids into a small pot and boil about 10 minutes, leaving the lids in the pot to stay warm until needed. Place the clean jars (not lids) onto a baking tray or cake pan with sides, and bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes to sterilize. When handling the jars, be very sure to use oven mitts so that you don't burn yourself. The jars should be hot when you put the preserves into them.

Mix together remaining ingredients and add to the pot, stirring well and cooking for another 10-15 minutes, until very fragrant and getting thick. Remove from heat and jar right away.

To jar the preserves, use a pickling funnel if at all possible. Fill jars to 1/2" from the top of the jar. Once a jar is filled, use a clean cloth dampened with vinegar to wipe the top and side edges of the jar where the lid will go. It is important to not have any sticky residue here that will prevent the lid from creating an airtight seal. Use tongs to pull a flat top out of the hot water and place on top of the jar, being sure not to touch the "inside" of the cap with your hands. Screw the ring on around the lid only until "fingertip tight" (what I do is I just don't hold the jar as I'm screwing the lid onto the jar, so I can only tighten as tight as the weight of the jar, as it's the only thing keeping the jar from turning with the lid). Repeat with all of the jars. If you have a jar that is not full, you will need to store it in the fridge and eat it as soon as possible, as it can't be properly processed. (Because of the vinegar content, the preserves will still stay fresh for a few weeks.)

For long-term storage, you're going to want to process your preserves in a water bath. That means you need a pot that is considerably taller than your jars (at least 1 inch). Place the jars in the pot and boil water in a kettle to fill the pot to 1 inch above the tops of the jars. Place over the burner and bring the pot to a boil, cooking for 10 minutes. Remove the jars from the water carefully with tongs, and keep them from getting shaken up. Place them on a cooling rack and let them stand for a day undisturbed. If they seal successfully, the button on the top of the lid will have popped down. If some did not, keep them in the fridge and use them as soon as you can.

This recipe makes 5 medium jars (500ml each) or 10 small jars (250ml each) of preserves.

These pickles (really a lot more like relish, as you can see) are amazing on pretty much any kind of meat, if you eat it, and super special on mashed potatoes for our veggie friends. Let me know if you come up with other amazing ways to eat it!

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