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Posts Tagged ‘Food Preservation’

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I am getting ready to turn yesterday’s bounty into delicious foods that will make great gifts and see us through the winter. There will be chopping, boiling, labeling and jars popping. There will probably be some swearing and maybe some tears, but in the end it will all be worth it. Let the canning games begin.

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Do you really need to blanch your veggies before freezing them?   I get this question a lot from friends and acquaintances who are just breaking into the gardening/preserving world.   The answer, without any hesitation is YES.    I will admit that when I first heard and read about blanching, I thought it was an old wives tale designed to keep me trapped in my hot kitchen sweating my keister off. Enzymes eating the flesh of my veggies?  Couldn’t I just put a garden gnome out there to protect them?   From experience, however, I can tell you that blanching absolutely makes a difference.  The first year I gardened and froze the fruits of my labor, I did not blanch.   When I returned to utilize my delicious frozen goodies, they were neither delicious or good.  They were mushy and had lost much of their flavor.   As a I get ready to prep and preserve my delicious take homes from the CSA, I know the only way that our family will enjoy fresh and delicious Kale in January will be to blanch the stem free greens and use our Foodsaver to suck the air out of the freezer bag and seal it up tight.

What is blanching you ask?  According to the Ball book or the “Preservation Bible” as it is called in our house,  “blanching cleanses off surface dirt and microorganisms, brightens the color, helps retain the vitamins and reduces the action of the enzymes which can destroy the fresh flavor after 4 weeks.”  The process of blanching is basically dipping your fresh, prepped veggies in boiling water for a prescribed amount of time and then immediately plunging them into ice water to immediately halt the cooking process started by the boiling water.   It sounds a bit like a hot mess, especially on a hot day, but I promise you the end result is worth it.  Time is perhaps the most important factor in the is process as either under-blanching or over-blanching  can be worse than not doing it at all. Each veggie is unique so times will vary.  When you are reading blanching times for specific veggies, note that the times given refer to the time in the boiling water and you should start the clock as soon as you put the veggies in the boiling water.  Time in the ice water should not be longer than the time in the boiling water.  Get your kettle on the stove, remove your unwanted skins and ends (remember, you want whatever you freeze to be in the state you want it to be when you are going to use it.  It will never be ideal to freeze a head of broccoli without cutting it up first, unless of course you like to just gnosh in a whole head of broccoli), get your bowl/sink of ice water and ready follow the times EXACTLY as listed below for the following commonly saved veggies:

Snap Beans Trimmed and Cut to 2-4 Inch lengths-3 Minutes

Carrots washed peeled and diced, sliced or quartered-3 Minutes

Corn on the Cob husked-8 Minutes (I like to peel the corn off after blanching to freeze)

Leafy Greens (Spinach, Kale, Swiss Chard, Beet Greens) stemmed and cut-2 Minutes

Peas (Sugar Snap with shells removed)-2 Minutes.

These times and more, along with more specific techniques are all listed in the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving.

Personally, I do not blanch the shredded zucchini I use for baking.  It’s pretty much a mushy disaster to start.  It really can’t get any worse.  I do recommend using a shredder attachment on your food processor or stand mixer just to speed up the process, especially since zucchini tends to multiply.  I had a large zucc shredded and frozen in 7 minutes today.  That was pretty sweet.

I never blanch fruit. I  don’t think you are supposed too, however, I don’t know that for sure.  I am just grossed out by boiling fruit that is not in jam.

I use the same water (both ice and boiling) for multiple veggies in a single blanch session.  I am quite certain none of the experts recommend that and I just cannot bear the thought of dumping out boiling water and refilling it and re-boiling it 5-6 times.  I have a full-time job and it is not blanching vegetables.  So far I have not suffered any adverse effects for utilizing this lazy preservers’ method, so if you are short on time I suggest you try it too.

At the end of the day if you find yourself asking the question “Do I REAALLLLY need to blanch these vegetables before freezing them?”, Turn on the Pandora and put on your sleeveless shirt and comfy shoes, because the answer is YES.  Please let us know if you have other blanching/freezing tips to make the process easier or more enjoyable.

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Although slightly behind due to the weather, harvest season is starting.   For the women who came before us this was a full-time job that required a full-time commitment and more.  This was also a time when women had to wake up before dawn to stoke the fire, start the bread, milk the cows, churn the butter and patch the dungarees.  Sounds nice doesn’t it?  Regardless of what used to be,  my typical day currently looks something like this:

1. Wake up with alarm.  It may or may not be dawn.  Depends on the time of year.

2. Let dog out, brew coffee, take shower, dress child prepare lunches, breakfasts, etc. Turn on Disney Channel/Nick Jr. and pray for a meltdown free morning.

3. Rush off to office and punch in just under the wire.  Work a full day.

4. Leave office.  Make any and all last-minute stops.  Funny how last-minute turns into last 20.  Barely make it home/to daycare on time.

5. Get to house, find solace in an adult beverage.  Try to come up with a nutritious tasty dinner that does not come from a box and takes only 20 minutes to make.  Often experience big, fat failure.

6. Catch up on house work, MAYBE, watch a favorite tv show. pass out while trying to read your favorite book, wondering where the devil the day went.

7. Spend your weekends trying to cram an entire week’s worth of “home-work” in.   Inform your family that if they would like to eat they need to pick up the phone or open a box of Cheerios.  You are done.

If this looks at all like a typical day for you, adding harvesting and preserving your vegetables may seem like the straw that will crack your spine.  When I add things like jam, relish and pickle making and blanching and freezing pounds of greens and peas to an otherwise ridiculous day it seems physically impossible to do it all.   When I tell friends that I stayed up until midnight making salsa, they look at me like the elevator stopped traveling to the top floor. I would be lying if I said the harvest was not time-consuming or did not mean burning the candle at both ends.  There have been many a tear shed on a Tuesday night when the salsa was barely going into the jars at midnight, let alone being processed.   I can tell you, however, that it is worth every tear-stained, pepper burned, sliced finger of it.  If you are thinking about giving preserving the season a try with goods from your own garden, CSA share, or routine trips to your local farmstand/farmers market, here are some tips that will help you keep your sanity and enjoy your hard-earned goods.

1.  Get a Foodsaver or one of the knock off’s.   We have a Rival and it is amazing.  I am not sure how I ever got by without it.   Freezing raspberries this evening took 15 minutes and they look like they will last forever and taste good too.   Preserving the season is done in vain if your frozen goods taste like yucky ice.

2.  Make something you have never made before.  With part of our raspberry harvest this year I made GF raspberry cupcakes with raspberry buttercream frosting.   This is not some thing I would normally make, but I was inspired by the fruit and my family loved them because they tasted like summer in a cupcake.  It did not seem like hard harvest work when I was licking the frosting.  off my nose, and my fingers, and my lips.

3. A blanch a day keeps the doctor away.   If you can blanch and freeze one set of veggies either from garden or CSA a day, you will have a freezer packed with fresh and delicious vegetables in no time.

4.  There is always room for more kale.  Or swiss chard.  Or beet greens.  If you get a lot of greens (there is more in this world than spinach), you can add them to pretty much every casserole, make a great bed for poached eggs or make a yummy addition to a salad or a sandwich.  Kale chips are an amazing snack that is super easy to make.

5.  Do what you want.  If you don’t like salsa, don’t make salsa.  If you really hate Kale, give it to a friend or donate it to a food pantry.  Preserving the harvest is about wanting to enjoy the taste and health benefits of the growing season.    If you don’t like it now, you will not like in weeks or months.  If you don’t love making jams, jellies, relishes and preserves don’t do it.

6.  If you take the time to freeze..take the the time to blanch.   Blanching your vegetables is key to keeping them fresh and tasty by killing enzymes.  Over-blanching kicks them into high gear.  Under does not completely destroy them.   Take a peek at the Ball Book or the Better Homes and Garden cookbook.  Both places give you a detailed charts on how long to boil and when to throw them into the ice-water.   It takes time and can be hot, but is worth every minute.

7. A food processor/grinder is a must have.   It can take hours to chop by hand and it doesn’t make it taste better.  It just makes you angry and no one will give you a medal for it, because no-one cares.

In the end, it is a lot of work. and it can take a lot of time, as clearly evidences by the 6 days it has taken me to write this. Women 100 years ago did not have all the conveniences we have now, but did not have all the same stresses or time consumers we have now.   In the end however, when you are craving a homemade blueberry muffin or a reuben with homemade thousand island dressing there is nothing like finding and tasting delicious items from your own stores.  The best advice I can give:  Try it.  If you don’t love it, let someone else do it for you.  If you do, keep trying new and fun things with new and fun vegetables.  I promise your palette and your health will thank you.   I was hoping to have some sumptuous photos of some of the delicious things that harvest season has brought to our kitchen, however, I am having some photo difficulties.  Stay tuned for some specific recipes and photos.

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No blog of mine would be complete without at least one Top 10 list.  This year we celebrated the 4th of July with a three-day weekend filled with family, friends and the season’s first berry picking extravaganza, so I decided it was time I share some of my hard-earned canning/preserving wisdom.   I was reminded as I canned this season’s first round of jam of all the tips/tricks and do’s and do not’s and decided to share them with you here.  I present Farmgirl Chic’s Top 10 Tips for Successful Home Canning/Preserving:

 

10.  Start with a jams and jellies.  They are so easy and super hard to mess up and trust me, you will mess up.

9.    Canning/Preserving is not something you squeeze into a busy day.   You need at least 3 hours.  Maybe more if you are making salsa.  Words to live by: If you have to be somewhere in the morning; 8 PM is too late to start canning something.

8.   Use only trusted and reliable canning recipes.  Just because great-aunt Bertha’s magic relish hasn’t killed anyone yet doesn’t mean that it won’t.  Try the Ball Book and/or website for some great recipes.

7.  Sterilizing jars in the dishwasher:  Good Idea.    Canning in the dishwasher: Bad Idea.   Also canning in the oven is not the right choice and neither is flipping the jars upside down after filling them with hot liquid in the hopes that they seal.  A Boiling Water Bath Canner (BWB) or Pressure Cooker are the only right choices (see photos below to see the BWB I use)

6.  Never stop stirring the jelly while it is cooking.  EVER.  Unless you have a hankering to spend an entire afternoon scraping hot and sticky jelly from your  stove-top,  just take my word for it.

5.  Pepper burn is a real thing.   When working with hot peppers wear gloves.  Don’t pretend that you are tougher than the pepper.  You are not.  Take it from someone who spent an entire afternoon with her hand in a bowl of milk to make the burning stop.   As a side note, wash your hands before you touch your eyes even if you wear gloves.

4.  Don’t reuse the lids.   They are for one use only and they are dirt cheap.   I am a person who sees botulism around every corner so I want to make sure that I have done all I can to keep my preserves fresh and safe and using new lids each time is part of that process.

3.  Don’t try to “jazz” up the recipes when you start out, especially if using the BWB method.  Acidity percentages are very important in this process.  This is my 3rd season making my own preserves and I still feel like I can’t doctor the recipes.

2.  Canning should be done when fruit and veggies are at the peak of freshness.   When you can’t decide if  they are sprouting mold or just have natural fuzz, you have missed the window.  Go ahead and throw them away.

1.  Canning sounds mystical and overwhelming, but in truth it is fun and nothing is cooler than providing your family and friends with delicious homemade goodies that allow you to enjoy the tastes of summer all year-long.

Below I have attached pictures of the process as it looks in our house.   Happy Fourth of July Everyone!!

We're Jamming, Jamming, Jamming. I hope you like Jamming Too...

The Sterile Field

Squishing the washed and stemmed berries

Just Keep Stirring, Stirring, Stirring

Checking For Sheeting (which means I can finally stop stirring)

Boiling Water Bather in Action

The finished project. Yum!!!

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Gardening is many things to me.  It is a hobby.  It is my own personal zen.   It sometimes feels like it is costing me my soul and my summer.  In the end however, there are few things as satisfying as seeing a pantry full of homemade pickles, jams and sauces when the winter sets and a freezer full of organic vegetables frozen at the peak of freshness.  There are times when my relationship with my garden is tenuous and all I can see are the dollars spent with zero return.  For instance, spinach and I go back about 3 years and have a true love hate relationship.  Every year, I buy the seeds and exclaim “this will be the year!!” And yet, I have just returned from viewing my spinach and once again, I have been dupped.  Another $.65 down the tubes.  I will recover from this loss, but  in the meantime, I thought I would share  a list of what we planted and what I might do with them and at the end a rough estimate of how much we spent to plant and maintain this garden and a couple of tips that I have used over the years grow and preserve summer’s bounty, because at the end of the day, every cent, regardless of the outcome is worth it.

Farmgirl’s 2011 Vegetable Garden

Spinach From Seed (or not as it were)-$.65-For eating and freezing, although normally we barely get enough for one meal.

Swiss Chard and Kale From Seed-$1.00 for both vegetable seeds (and I still have a more)-Swiss Chard and Kale are both great for freezing and throwing into casseroles, soups, stews or anything else you can imagine.  You can also dehydrate Kale and make some pretty amazing chips.  I will post a recipe for that when I find one I love.

Lettuce (4 Different Varietys-Romaine, Buttercrunch, Head and Leaf)-Seedlings-about $9.00 for 24 plants.  What does one say about lettuce?  Salad, sandwiches…if you are GFree like me you can use it in place of bread.  If you take small outer leaves from your plants daily you can get your lettuce to last until July, weather depending.

Broccoli-12 Seedlings-about -$7.00-A great freezer vegetable.  Chicken Divan, Mac and Cheese, stir-fry’s in our house all feature broccoli as a co-star.

Spaghetti and Butternut Squash and zucchini-6 seedlings-$6.00-The squashes all store very well and the zucchini is a main staple of our summer grilling season and makes a great bread once fall rolls around.

Watermelon and Cantaloupe-2 plants (we are just trying it this year)-$3.00-First year doing this, if we get any I am guessing we will just eat and enjoy these fruits….

Peas-From seed about $.89-Great to freeze and have on hand for soup, stews, casseroles, risotto and beyond.

Green Bush Beans-From Seed-$.89-Great to eat, freeze and are SUPER abundant.   If you keep picking they keep growing.  And of course there are DILLY BEANS, great for entertaining and eating.

Carrots and Beets-From Seed-$2.00 for both plants-Pickled Beets and frozen carrots.   Roasted root vegetables always make for a delicious early fall side dish!!

Eggplants-6 seedlings-$3.95-Grilled eggplant in the summer, eggplant Parmesan in the fall and winter.

Tomatoes-24 Plants -$12.50-Tomato Sauce (canned and frozen), salsa, roasted tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, grilled tomatoes, tomato soup, tomato on the barbie……need I say more?

Dill,Oregano, Rosemary, Basil, Thyme and Chives-14 plants-$9.50 Herbs have more uses than I could ever mention here, but end of the season pesto is one of my favorite things to make with my basil plants.

Peppers (Hot and Bell)-18 plants-$10.00-Pepper Jam of course has earned me some fame amongst family and friends, but this year we are also hoping to dry some this year and of course  they make great additions to almost any meal.

Pickling Cucumbers-6 Plants-$4.50-Pickles and my favorite sweet relish.   It is always sad day in our house when the last jar of sweet relish goes and we have to do the unthinkable…by it from the STORE!!

Cabbage-12 plants-$6.50-Coleslaw of course.  Also great in stir fries and in various pickle and relish recipes.

6 Bales of Straw for Mulch-$32.00-You might hear arguments for and against mulching.  Anyone who says you don’t need to mulch, well I will try not to judge but maybe one cucumber shy of a peck.   Mulching is the key to keeping soil cool,  moisture in and weeds out.  This year we also added newspaper to our garden before laying down the straw and that has made a huge difference.

Here are some photos of the garden as we head into the home stretch of June

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The original title for this post was going to be “Localvores for Wal-Mart.”  It was inspired by a conversation I had yesterday with two of my dearest friends who gently reminded me that my desire for a Super Wal-Mart to come to my town was a perfect contradiction to my buy local, eat organic, return to basics platform that I have clearly been fairly vocal about.   Anyone else NOT my dearest friends would have probably come right out and said, “You loud mouthed hypocrite!!  How can you even think such a thing?”    Well, here is my defense.   We on the eat local/organic front tend to be a tad bit extreme when it comes to our beliefs.   That extremism sometimes forces everyone to miss a key point:  Every little bit counts.   Every time we choose to buy from our local farmers market or sign up for a CSA we are making a difference.  Every vegetable we plant, harvest and either eat or put by, makes a difference.   I will be the first person to say that food in our nation has become big business right along with oil and electronics and my sincere hope is that more people like me decide to build a relationship with food or those who grow it, or decide to become growers themselves.   As it turns out, however, to the best of my knowledge, no one local or otherwise grows toilet paper. If you do know someone who does, by all means, send me their way.s  As romantic as using leaves or newspaper sounds, I am just not there yet in my journey back to basics and I am guessing that city sewers and septic systems around the country will appreciate that choice.  The same can be said for soaps, make-up, toothpaste, medicine, etc.    Let’s be honest, sometimes the only things that will satisfy my child are chicken fries and Spaghettios.   As a mom, I do my best to prepare whole and healthy foods for my family. I bulk up on local, in-season produce and freeze or can it.   I try to do the cook once, eat all week routine as often as possible.   I use homemade or “green” cleaning products whenever possible.  I do seem to have an unhealthy addiction to Seventh Generation Toilet Bowl Cleaner and Method Daily Shower Cleaner. The wasteful skeleton in my closet comes in the form of Lysol or Clorox disposable wipes.   Since the city might frown on us putting a milking cow in the backyard, I will still need to continue to purchase milk.  Until I get a chance to take that glass blowing class,  I still need to purchase containers to freeze all of my make ahead meals and jars to put all my jellies and pickles in.    The moral of my tale here is that until such a time when ALL of my time can be put into creating a self-sustaining household, I will still need to budget a good chunk of our monthly funds for groceries purchased at a store.   I would also like to purchase a whole (butchered) cow for my larder and perhaps a pig that have both been grass-fed and bred locally.   As luck would have it, my family is not in a position to have that much budget for food, so it would be nice to get as many of those aforementioned necessities at the cheapest price possible.  In my experience, that occurs in places like Wal-Mart.    Every dollar I save there is one more dollar that can go towards a significant purchase from a local farmer or merchant in my area.   Now, the debate as to whether a Wal-Mart ever REALLLY gets built in this town will rage on for years to come, so in the meantime, I have been inspired by TLC’s Extreme Couponing.   While it would be sweet to get $1000 of groceries for $1.98, I don’t know that I will ever be that committed, but I am going to strive to shave 50%-60% off our grocery bills each month.  Ideally, this money will be put towards paying off some debt, paying for my, (dare I say it aloud lest it doesn’t come true), my Iphone, and most importantly putting money into purchasing local, grass-fed meat and fresh and local produce.    Also, of course, there is the part of me that loves a good challenge and has a really strong desire to build a grocery reserve.   As a parent it takes only one sleepless night wondering if you will have enough money for groceries that week to make you want to become more of an ant and less of a grasshopper.   So, our new approach to “stockpiling” will be a combination of putting food by, cooking once and eating all week, and of course, extreme couponing.  Below is a list of websites that I am using to start my foray into spending less to have more.   Also, Google Docs has some amazing templates for coupon tracking and monthly budgeting that I have downloaded and will start using.   I plan to Tweet and Blog about my successes and failures in this area and will hopefully inspire others to take a look at how much they are spending and what they are spending it on.   If my life were a fantasy camp, I could just make every thing myself, but until someone invents a from scratch that doesn’t scratch TP, I am guessing that I will need to continue this approach.  My first official extreme shopping trip will occur later this week and I will certainly share that experience, good, bad or ugly.

The Organic Mother-This is my friend and also the owner of our CSA, Hannah’s Blog.  She has some great tips on how to live organically on a budget and an amazing book she is selling for just a $1.  Check it out and you will become a fan like I have.

For the Momma’s – I learned about this site over a year ago when I took Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace Course.  It’s a great site with great daily deals (including free Kindle Books) and links to lots of other couponing and money-saving sites.

Couponing 101– A great site that offers a more realistic perspective on how to coupon like a real person and not the border line hoarders on the TV Show.  Also loaded with great links to printable coupons and daily deals.

Wicked Cool Deals– A great site, especially if you live in New England, as they give price matches to my favorite store Price Chopper.  Which, by the by, if you live near a Price Chopper and have not taken advantage of the gas deal…you are CRAZY.

Common Sense with Money– This site pretty much has everything the above sites do, but also has a free E-book on couponing that you can download for free if you sign up for their newsletter.

Most importantly, if you are looking for a deal on a favorite product (organic or otherwise), you can always visit the companies’ websites.  Many of them have printable coupons available.   Also, a lot of the links I have on this site have all helped me begin to put food by and make my food dollars stretch.

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