Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Can the *bleep* out of it!

It’s been a beautiful, hot, dry summer. Short, as it only lasted less than two months, but I loved every minute of it. I won’t even complain that I had to work the whole time and as a result, my tan seriously suffered. At least I got to swim in the river every few days.

Sooner or later we needed some rain and it came a few Saturdays ago – the first rain in over eight weeks. All of my beach-y hopes and dreams for the day were slashed and I needed a good, wholesome, domestic task to pass the time. So I canned.

I was not a first-timer canner. I have done it before in my mom’s kitchen, canning things like tomatoes, dill pickles and brandied peaches. I still have a few jars of some pickles we made two years ago and they are still delicious and crunchy. We dodged the botulism bullet. This time around I had a few less resources at my disposal, being in my miniature apartment kitchen. I have no dishwasher to sterilize jars with and a tiny little stove with FOUR small burners – no big one to get that big pot of water really cranking. ‘Whatever,’ my head said and out I went to buy up all the supplies needed for such a project.

As I drove I not only figured out what I was going to can (peach chutney and pickled vegetables), but also the logistics of the job ahead of me. Canning requires:
-zero bacteria in the jars or the contents of the jars (done by putting the jars through the dishwasher or washing then putting them into the oven for a long time to sterilize),
-a hell of a lot of boiling water to sterilize everything else, and
-some toasty acidic conditions where nothing nasty can grow.
And that’s the basics.

I bought a big huge pot for boiling the jars, a jar-picker-upper and 24 jars, followed by a whole bunch of peaches (to cook and eat), pickling cucumbers, green beans, carrots, cauliflowers and a big handful of red chillies. Not to mention multiple litres of pickling vinegar, apple cider vinegar and pickling salt. Good to go.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that everyone should go off and can the shit out of everything they can get their hands on. Jars of pickles in the grocery store are easy, tempting and delicious. When I was a kid I used to sneak pickles from the fridge without my mom finding out because I loved them so much and figured they were treats. Therefore, I love having the power to make dill pickles with my own hands!
Bottom line, I don’t want you to feel like this is something you need to know. I just invite you to learn the basics of canning, so if the mood strikes one day you are up to the task.

First off, I had to make the chutney. Chutney doesn’t need to be canned unless you want to store it out of the fridge for months on end, so you could make this for yourself to put on top of your curry whenever you feel you have the time.
Here’s how:

Heat some olive oil in a big dutch oven until it’s hot and then throw in some mustard and cumin seeds. They will start to toast and kind of change color and when they start to go ‘pop’, it’s time to add a whole chopped white onion. Let that cook until it goes a bit soft, then add a few cloves of chopped garlic, around an inch of chopped ginger, and a chopped jalapeño. Let it cook on medium heat until it all smells fantastic.
Then in goes around four pounds of peeled*, de-pitted and chopped peaches. Let this cook right down on low (an easy simmer) so there is almost no liquid left in the pot, just syrupy, savoury peaches.
At this point add your spices. A few tablespoons of curry powder, a bit less of cumin powder, and a bit less again of turmeric. Maybe you want more heat? Some cayenne can’t hurt. Stir it all around and let the powdered spices heat up and cook a bit to release their flavours.
Next I added around four cups of apple cider vinegar, but if you aren’t canning that much isn’t necessary (it must be an acidic environment to can) along with about a cup of brown sugar. Let that cook uncovered and on low to reduce for about an hour. Stir regularly, until it hits a consistency of, you got it, chutney.

*Want to know how to peel peaches? Slice an x into the bum end of the fruit and drop into a pot of boiling water. After a minute in there, put them straight into a bowl of ice water. If they are fresh, the skins will slide right off and you will have naked peaches skidding all over your chopping board. If not, it might take a bit more effort to get the skins off.

To can, wash out your jars with hot soapy water then put into a hot oven for ten minutes or so, and sterilize the brand new sealer lids in a pot of boiling water. Next, put the hot chutney into the hot jars leaving about a half inch at the top, wipe the sealer lids dry and screw into place with the screw top lid. Then boil the jars, not touching, in a big huge pot of boiling water. Maybe around five will fit in the pot at once, and there must be enough water to cover them all by at least an inch. This is called processing. You want to process a jar of chutney for fifteen or twenty minutes. Then take them out using your jar-picker-upper (or maybe you have more high tech canning equipment than I do) and put them on a dish towel on the kitchen table, again not touching. The lids need to seal, meaning the sealer lid will pop down. You will hear them, sitting on the table, all popping down. If they don’t pop, they aren’t sealed.

So that was down, next up was the pickled vegetables. Pickle whatever you want, I have already told you my choices.

The basic principles of canning apply to making pickles as well. Hot liquid into hot jars, topped with sterilized sealing lids. In this case, the canning liquid is one cup water, two cups white vinegar and three or four tablespoons of pickling salt (or a similar ratio). Take out one hot jar, stuff in as many vegetables as will fit (you want as little air room as possible) and any extras you want to add (garlic, chillies, mustard seeds) and quickly add the hot vinegar liquid. On goes the lids, and then move onto the next jar. Fill only as many as will fit into your big pot of boiling of water and process for ten minutes, then let cool just like above. And continue until you have filled all your jars, or run out of vegetables, or vinegar, or whatever comes first. The vegetables should be pickled and delicious in two months.

Easy, right? Twelve jars of each took about eight hours.

No comments:

Post a Comment