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Volume 37 Issue 21, - Sept 13 - 26, 2007 now in our 37th season

Saving Summer

by Maryjane Mojer

We all have our strengths and weaknesses, and sometimes, what we consider to be our strengths, others, well….lets just say that others can be so shortsighted. One of my greatest strengths, or so I think, is my ability to feed the masses. Because I am fortunate enough to actually get paid to make lots of food, it is not only a strength, it is a gift to my husband. While he appreciates having lots of food in the refrigerator, he does not share my enthusiasm when it comes to the quantities we often keep on hand.  You just never know when ten or fifteen people may spontaneously stop by.  Odd though that may seem, it’s the norm for our house in the summer.

We have five no-longer children.  They range in age from twenty to twenty-five.  They have friends, girlfriends, boyfriends, co-workers and so on.  This adds up pretty quickly and I like to be ready when they stop by.  The glitch is that, once September arrives and they all leave to various points of the globe to lead their own lives, I need a bit of an adjustment period.  For me, canning and preserving are just the thing to fill the void.  I can make enormous quantities to satisfy my need to feed, and I don’t waste a bit.  I’m also setting myself up a bit to be ready for the holidays.  A jar of jam or pickles is always a welcome gift.  (Or, it should be. Those of you who receive gifts like this with a polite smile and a clandestine roll of the eyes, and you know who you are, you don’t know what you’re missing!  Crack open the jar and give it a go!)

In a few weeks, grapes will be ready to pick.  Right now, the beach plums are more beautiful than I’ve ever seen them.  (Remember to avoid the poison ivy and check for ticks after!)  This is the best time of the year for tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, green beans, and wax beans and so many other wonderful fruits and vegetables.

Canning is a commitment for a day or so.  It is possible, if you have a few gorgeous peaches or a bucket of blackberries to simply can a small amount. This, to me, is a foreign concept, but does, in fact work well.  In fact, there is a great book called Small Batch Canning and Preserving put out by the Saturday Evening Post and if you’re of the small batch bend, jump in and enjoy!

That said, for me, canning is a job that I need to clean my whole house for.  I make sure all surfaces are clear, all of my jars are washed; I have a new stack of lids and my big pans ready and waiting.  I don’t have all of the specialty pots and pans, but I do have the jar tongs and a wide mouth funnel. They work very well and make so much sense.  I tried the fancy grate that enables you to lift and lower several jars at once.  Suffice it to say, with my coordination, the more things I have around that can cause injuries, the more injuries I will sustain.  Tongs are uncomplicated.

While canning is a simple procedure, it is important to maintain a certain level of cleanliness during the whole process.  Sterilizing your jars is imperative.  If you have a dishwasher, use it.  It’s the quickest and easiest way to take care of the jars and the lids.  I don’t, so I use a large pot of boiling water. I submerge the jars for about ten minutes, and the lids for two to three.  Different jars and lids will have different directions if you are buying them new. You best bet is to follow whatever directions are on your particular box of jars.  In addition to a fair amount of counter space, jars and tongs, a stack of clean kitchen towels is a help.  Even though I’ve done a fair amount of canning, I always make sure to follow the guidelines in one of the many books available.  Sealing good food in a jar is a wonderful way to preserve the flavors of summer.  Done wrong, it’s a great way to allow bad things to grow that can really make someone not appreciate your efforts!

One treat that my friends look forward to each year is Pepper Jelly.  There are so many variations, and so many peppers available right now, that each batch can be special.  You can use all hot peppers or make a blend of hot and  sweet.  This is great on salty crackers with cream cheese, or as an accompaniment to cold chicken. It also makes a leftover turkey sandwich at Thanksgiving even better!

Pepper Jelly

2 cups diced peppers
(How hot or sweet is up to you. The more jalapeños or cayennes you use, the hotter it will be. You can certainly use all hot if you’re brave enough! Remember to use gloves when chopping hot peppers, and avoid touching your eyes!)
12 cups sugar
3 cups apple cider vinegar
3 pouches of Certo (or any other pectin that you’d like to use. Remember to follow the manufacturers directions.)

Mix sugar and vinegar.  Bring to boil, and boil for 4 to 5 minutes.  Stir in peppers, and boil for two more minutes.  Stir in Certo, remove from heat, and very, very carefully pour into jars.  Add lids, and seal the jars following the directions.

Sharon’s Bread and Butter Pickles

These sweet and salty pickles are great with a really sharp cheddar cheese.

4 quarts cucumbers, sliced 1/4 inch thick
8 medium onions, sliced thin
1/2 cup kosher salt
5 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric
1 teaspoon celery seed
2 tablespoons mustard seed
5 cups apple cider

In a large bowl or pan, mix cucumbers with onions and salt.  Cover with ice, lay a clean towel over the top and refrigerate overnight.  Drain cucumbers. (No need to rinse.)  Place in a large pot, and add the sugar, spices and vinegar.  Bring just to a boil.  Remove from heat, and pack sterilized jars with pickles, pouring pickling liquid over pickles to fill jars.  Cover and seal.

Beach Plum Jam

Once you’ve found your beach plums, pick them over and remove stems and leaves.  It’s good to have a small amount of less ripened plums as they have a higher pectin content and will help your jam to set.  Rinse them well with cold water, and place them in a large, heavy bottomed pan.

Over low heat, cook the plums till they’re soft and the skins pop.  Let them simmer until all the plums are soft and mush.  I use a potato masher to “encourage” them a bit.

Strain the skins and pits out and measure out the juice that’s left.  I strain through a colander as I like the pithiness of jam rather than smooth clear jelly.

For each cup of juice, I add a half cup of sugar and a teaspoon of lemon juice.  Bring your juice and sugar mixture to a boil, and cook for about five minutes.  Remove from the heat and stir in your pectin.  Again, and very carefully, pour your jam into your prepared jars and seal.

Even if you make just pick enough to make one jar, the flavor of summer will stay with you until next year!

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