My grandmother had preserved food her entire life, both out of necessity and pride. She canned, cured, dried and salted everything while the “Signs” were right. She did nearly everything in accordance with the subtle variations and seasonal changes evidenced in the world around her, along with the stars and moon. I’m by no means scoffing at this notion, however dated, and wish that I had paid more attention when I was a kid running amuck around the yard, heedless of the danger presented by massive boiling vats of water and post-WWII pressure canners that were on the verge of exploding at any time.
On one particular day, when I was even more reckless than usual, she swatted me with her wooden spoon and told me of the story of a boy who, just like me, ignored all the signs nature and didn’t pay enough attention to the dangerous tasks at hand. His grandmother warned him repeatedly to be more careful, but he laughed and danced about the glowing vessels, secure in his youth and nimbleness to keep him from harm.
The boys speeding feet landed him in serious trouble on this day, as he tripped and fell over a small piglet who had wandered into the canning area, as young pigs are want to do, seeking out the leftover mash and wonderful remnants of days of food preparation. Unluckily for him, he fell face first into the caldron holding the scalding liquid, and spilled it over his head.
His grandmother covered him in lard and lavender, dressing his wounds with chamomile and wild honey, as her ancestors had done for generations. There was no hope for the boy in this life, as his burns were too severe. Instead of allowing his soul to pass into the underworld where the boy would grow to be a man in pain and his scars would be belittled by the evil men around him, she prayed that his spirit be sent into the body of a young deer. The gods answered her prayer, and delivered the brave little boy’s woul to the deer, where he was free to roam and play, and the deer could never be killed by hunters, as it was sacred.
My grandmother waved her giant knife at me. “You be careful too, young Ron, as you can be sent into a young deer.”
Hopefully you have enjoyed the last few posts on getting ready for the Holidays and Canning for gifts. As I’ve given credit earlier, most or my recipes are borrowed or modified from “Canning For a New Generation” by Liana Krissoff. Her recipes are a huge departure from the “Ball Canning Guide,” which is invaluable in learning to safely store food in jars if you become seriously interested. One of my favorites, which I traded for a Cincinatti Chili Recipe, is for Red Onion Jam, which has a wonderfully sweet and tangy flavor and pairs well with Flank Steak, Grouse and Wild Game. The recipe is as follows:
Red Onion Jam
Four pounds of Granny Smith or other tart green apples. If you’re not sure, ask the person in charge of Orchard Husbandry, usually the owner or manager. A few Crab Apples thrown in for good measure add a bit more tartness to the Jam.
One pound of red onions, with papery peels,
The zest and juice of two lemons,
Two cinnamon sticks,
Three cups of sugar,
One half cup of molasses,
Two and a half cups of white vinegar and
About three cups of water.
Roughly chop all the onions and apples, leaving the peels, seeds and cores intact. Dump everything into a large kettle and bring to a hard boil. Reduce the mash to low, and allow it to simmer until everything is broken completely up and the peels have separated from the apples, about thirty minutes to an hour.
Line a very large colander with cheese cloth, taking care that the cloth can’t slide into the vessel when you pour all the mash in. I use a three gallon metal bucket when I strain the mash to make sure I don’t have a ton of leakage around the edges of the strainer.
Allow the mash to strain for at least a half hour, stirring occasionally but not mashing on the solids. This will force seeds and other unwanted solids into the liquid, which will turn out to be a beautiful rose color when you are done. It’s worth the extra time!
Process the jars and prepare them for canning. This recipe makes about four half pint jars, or four cups. Using a one cup ladle, carefully (!) pour the liquids into the jars using a funnel. I love using half pint regular mouth or wide mouth jars for this recipe, as it really shows off all the work you’re putting into it! Process in boiling water for about five minutes and place on paper towels to cool for twelve hours or more without disturbing them. Resist the temptation to turn them on their side and move them around for pictures. There will be time for that later!
There is some common sense to be utilized in canning and I’ll share some with you:
- Wear shoes. For God’s sake, just put them on.
- Invest in proper canning tools. Even if you only can once, they can make a difference between a pleasant experience and a trip to the hospital.
- Make sure your intended canning pots are sufficiently deep to allow for not only the jars, but a few inches of water to cover, and enough space to avoid splashing. Boiling water + splashing + bare feet = pain.
- Do NOT drink while canning. I don’t give a shit what the Italians say.
- Plan your work area. Work in one direction only, from preparation to sanitation to the finished product. You don’t want to be constantly crossing yourself while you work.
- Do NOT attempt to can while watching your children alone. Take a look at the story above. You don’t want junior to turn into a white-tail buck do you? If you are a companion or partner in the canning operation, get a sitter.
- Do NOT leave the pots and pans alone on the stove. Not for one second. The moment you do is when they will all boil over at once.
- Utilize the proper racks and grabbers to remove jars and lids from hot water. No matter how tough you may be, you WILL throw away a hot object upon contact.
- Nothing is worse than a burn. Except burning your children.
- Be careful, be slow and don’t rush. If you feel yourself rushing or cutting corners to finish before soccer practice or a Holiday activity, stop. A little iffy preserves can be refrigerated. Skin takes a long time to rejuvenate.
Scared? Good. Now get off your butt, grab a bunch or a little fresh produce, and get to work making Christmas presents. You will be the talk of the town and everyone will love you for it. It’s the gift that keeps on giving!
Pura Vida! Happy Holidays!