Preserving the Harvest: Quick Sweet Pickles

 

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I’m an insomniac and a night owl, which is why I was still finishing up making the jars of pickles you see above at 2:00 a.m. before going to bed.

I found a recipe for Quick Sweet Pickles on the National Center for Home Food Preservation site, but I changed the original recipe, so I’m posting what I did here:

  • Enough pickle cucumbers to fill 7 quart jars when sliced
  • 2/3 cup canning or pickling salt
  • 9-1/2 cups sugar
  • 7-1/2 cups vinegar (5 percent)
  • 4 tsp celery seed
  • 2 tbsp whole allspice
  • 4 tbsp mustard seed
  • 1 tbsp black pepper corns
  1. Wash cucumbers. Cut 1/16-inch off ends and discard.  Slice into rounds. Place in bowl and sprinkle with 2/3 cup salt. Cover with 2 inches of crushed or cubed ice. Refrigerate 3 to 4 hours. Add more ice as needed. Drain well.
  2. Combine sugar, vinegar, celery seed, allspice, mustard seed, and peppercorns in a large kettle. Heat to boiling.
  3. Fill jars, with cucumber slices leaving 1/2-inch headspace.
  4. Ladle in hot pickling syrup, leaving 1/2-inch headspace.
  5. Adjust lids and process for 15 minutes in a boiling water-bath canner.
  6. After processing and cooling, jars should be stored 4 to 5 weeks to develop ideal flavor.

I didn’t take any pictures this time, but I do want to remind anyone who is interested in home canning that the Ball Jars website Fresh Preserving has a ton of useful information on it.  Of course, they want to push their own products, too, but their Canning FAQs section is useful no matter what brand of jars you use.  Just today, I learned something new from their site: I don’t have to heat the lids, and I don’t need to sterilize the jars for any recipe that will be processed for at least ten minutes!  I did not know that; my mother always sterilized her jars and heated her lids.  But here is what Ball now says:

Why don’t I have to preheat my lids?

After extensive testing by our Quality Assurance Team, we determined that it is no longer necessary to pre-warm lids before use. If you desire, it is still safe to simmer your lids before use, however, you should never boil them. Our recommendation for over 40 years has always been to simmer (180°F), not boil (212°F), the lids.

When was this change made?

Believe it or not, in 1969! At that time we switched our sealing gasket from being latex-based to Plastisol. Latex required pre-heating to soften it prior to canning in order to create an effective seal. The Plastisol does not require preheating, but doing so will not damage it.

What about sterilizing the jars?

Pre-sterilizing jars and lids is not necessary in the home canning process. If you are following a recipe that processes in your canner for 10 minutes or more, the sterilization will occur during that time.

There is is always something new to learn!

Making horehound cough drops.

I didn’t plan to grow any horehound in my herb garden, but the nice lady at the Dexter Mill offered me a leggy horehound plant for a dollar, along with a bunch of free vegetable plants that were in bad need of a good home.  I remember eating horehound candy sticks as a child but you don’t see those around much anymore.  I don’t remember thinking they were too tasty, which is probably why you don’t see them now.

But it turns out that horehound makes very nice cough drops, and today I made my first batch of them.

According to the University of Michigan hospital website:

Horehound contains a number of constituents, including alkaloids, flavonoids, diterpenes (e.g., marrubiin), and trace amount of volatile oils. The major active constituent in horehound is marrubiin, which is thought to be responsible for the expectorant (promotion of coughing up of mucus) action of the herb. In addition, marrubiin contributes to the bitter taste of horehound, an action that increases the flow of saliva and gastric juice, thereby stimulating the appetite. These actions likely explain the long-standing use of horehound as a cough suppressant and expectorant as well as a bitter digestive tonic.

Put 1 ½ cups of fresh, rinsed horehound leaves in a small nonreactive saucepan and add water. Bring to a hard boil and then turn off heat, allowing the leaves to steep for 20 minutes. Pour through a strainer to remove leaves, then return liquid to pan.  I was amazed at how strong the vapors were; my lungs felt like I was breathing Vick’s Vapo-Rub.

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Add 2 cups sugar and 2 tablespoons honey and return to a boil, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon.

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Boil to the hard-crack stage (300-310 degrees F), using a candy thermometer if you have one.  If you don’t have one, use the cold water method: once the sugar syrup is forming strands when you drip it off your spoon, add a drop to a cup of cold water and then crunch it with your teeth.  If it’s still sticky instead of crunchy, it’s not ready (for more on the temperatures associated with different stages for making candy, see The Science of Cooking website).

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Pour the syrup into a buttered pan.

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If you have candy molds like these, you can use them instead.

I also read about a trick I want to try next time in which you put a thick layer of powdered sugar into a pie plate, tamp it down with your hands, and then use the bottom of a food coloring bottle to make indentations, forming a powder sugar mold.

After I poured my sugar syrup into the buttered pan, I let it cool a little and then quickly formed it into cough drop shaped balls by hand.  Careful – the mixture is still pretty hot.  You have to work quickly because once it cools a bit more, the candy hardens and you can’t shape it.  You could also just leave it in the pan and cut or break it like you do with peanut brittle, but it won’t be in a pleasing lozenge shape then.

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Finally, dust cough drops with fine granulated sugar if you have it; I didn’t have any, so I used powdered sugar.  I stored my cough drops in a glass jar.

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Horehound Cough Drops Recipe:

  • 1 ½ cup fresh horehound leaves, rinsed and drained in a colander
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • powdered sugar, to coat
  1. Put horehound leaves in a small nonreactive saucepan and add water. Bring to a hard boil and then turn off heat, allowing the leaves to steep for 20 minutes. Pour through a strainer to remove leaves and return liquid to pan.
  2. Add sugar and honey and return to a boil, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon.
  3. Boil to the hard-crack stage (300-310 degrees F) using a candy thermometer if you have one.  If you don’t have one, use the cold water method: once the sugar syrup is forming strands when you drip it off your spoon, add a drop to a cup of cold water and then crunch it with your teeth.  If it’s still sticky instead of crunchy, it’s not ready.
  4. Pour the syrup into a buttered pan or candy molds.
  5. Dust cough drops with fine granulated or powdered sugar and store in a glass jar.

 

Making rose hip jam.

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Yesterday’s experiment with making rose hip jam for the first time went very well.  Tasting it today, my husband said it tastes like apricot candy.

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My rosa rugosa shortly after it bloomed and the petals fell.

Rose hips from rosa rugosa, which was originally a cultivated species that has jumped out of gardens and now grows wild, contain more vitamin C than oranges.  The hip forms in the center of the blossom as the petals begin to fall and ripens to a pretty bright red over the course of the summer.  The inside is filled to bursting with seeds, and de-seeding them for the jam takes quite a bit of time, which is probably why you don’t often find this jam sold commercially.

Rose Hip Freezer Jam

  • 1 cup trimmed and seeded rose hips
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 (1.75 ounce) package powdered fruit pectin
  • another 3/4 cup water
  1. Put the prepared rose hips, water, and lemon juice in a blender; blend until smooth. Small bits of rose hips skin are okay.
  2. Gradually add the sugar while blender is running. Blend until sugar is dissolved.
  3. Stir the pectin into 3/4 cup water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil; boil hard for about 1 minute. Slowly pour into the rose hip mixture; blend for about 30 seconds.
  4. Pour jam into glass jars and place in refrigerator overnight to gel.

I started by picking a basketful of rose hips off the shrub in my garden.

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Hmm…why isn’t my basket getting any fuller?  Could it be that there are little thieves afoot?

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Do puppies like rose hips?

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Apparently they do.

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Cutting off the blossom end, pulling the stems, and removing the seeds from enough rose hips to yield one cup took a little over an hour.  It’s a time-intensive job, but the results were worth it.

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I tossed the seeds into our meadow in hopes that more rosa rugosa bushes will grow wild.image

I pureed the prepared rose hips with water and lemon juice in the blender, and then slowly added the sugar.image

Then I boiled the fruit pectin for one minute with more water.imageimage

I blended the fruit pectin water into the rose hip/sugar puree for 30 seconds on high speed.

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Finally, I poured the mixture into jam jars and put it in the refrigerator overnight.

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I always save the glass jars from store-bought jam; actually I save nearly all glass jars.  Glass has become rare as a packaging material, but I prefer it over plastic, which sometimes leaves an odd taste in food and which may be leaching chemicals into the food.  I use old glass jars for storing things I make or harvest but don’t can.

This morning the jam had set.  The consistency is almost like pudding.

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I’ve got a fresh batch of bread dough started in the bread machine; it’s supposed to be very hot today (nearly 90 degrees, which is hot by Michigan standards), so instead of cooking anything for lunch, we’ll just have fresh bread, rose hip jam, and iced mint tea made with mint leaves from the garden.

Canning mock lemon pie filling made with zucchini.

If you think you’re tired of hearing about my zucchini, just imagine how tired I am of dealing with it. 🙂  But I press on!  Waste not, want not and all that.

I really did grow other things besides zucchini, and soon I will tell you about how I’m preserving those.  But for now…

I found this recipe for Zucchini “lemon” pie filling at the site for Self-Reliance Magazine: Basic Skills for Living Well.  Since I’m trying to use and preserve as much of my over-abundance of garden zucchini as possible, I decided to give it a try.

Ingredients:

12-15 lbs. giant zucchinis, peeled and grated
58 oz. bottled lemon juice
lemon peel, grated, from 2 lemons
6 cups sugar

Directions: Mix all ingredients. Bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes. Fill sterilized jars with mixture, topping with remaining juice to leave ½ inch headspace. Process in boiling water bath, for 25 minutes.
To use filling for lemon meringue pie: Mix ½ cup sugar with 2 Tbsp. of cornstarch. Stir into “lemon” filling. Heat, just till thickened. Pour into baked pie crust, top with meringue and bake (400 degrees, 8-10 minutes) till meringue is slightly browned.

A few tips from me: I used the shredder side of the grater to make finer bits of zucchini.  I also used a lemon zester for the lemon peel.

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After you cook it for twenty minutes, it looks a lot like lemon curd,  We don’t eat lemon meringue pie all that often, but I will easily use these up making lemon bars.  I have school-aged children, which means I often need to provide baked goods for some event or other in which they’re involved.  I had thirteen pounds of zucchini, which yielded six quarts of “lemon” pie filling.

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I also made some zucchini bread to freeze today, leaving one loaf out for us to eat.  I usually use my mother’s recipe, which is moist and not too sweet, but I didn’t have applesauce, which the recipe calls for.  Instead, I tried Mom’s Zucchini Bread from All Recipes, and my husband preferred it.  I thought it was a bit too sweet but had a very nice texture and cinnamon-y taste.  Zucchini bread freezes well.

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I really think I am going to cut down the zucchini vines after tomorrow, though, and toss them on the compost pile.  Enough is enough already! 🙂

Sunday afternoon I’m planning to make rose hip jam, and if it goes well, I’ll share the details with you.

Using and preserving the harvest: frozen lemon zucchini bars.

My mother made sheets and sheets of lemon zucchini bars every summer because they freeze well and actually taste even BETTER frozen.  She got this recipe from our next door neighbor, a lady named Bev who had seven children and also made enormous quantities of these to feed her brood.  Like with the mock apple pie filling, these taste like apple, not zucchini.

My eldest daughter recalls being around four years old and eating one of these at my mother’s house, unaware that the filling was zucchini.  My mother asked her how she liked it and when she said, “It’s yummy!”, my mom told her what was really in it.  Then my daughter refused to eat any more of it.  🙂  Kids are silly that way.  But she likes them now, so my advice is just don’t tell your kids what’s in them.  Let them assume whatever they want about the filling!

Ingredients:

  • 8 or 9 medium zucchinis, peeled, cut in half, seeded, and sliced
  • 1 1/3 c lemon juice
  • 2 c sugar
  • 1/2 t nutmeg
  • 1 t cinnamon
  • 1 cup crushed mix (see below)

Crushed Mix

  • 6 c flour
  • 3 c sugar
  • 3/4 t salt
  • 2 1/2 c butter
  • 1 1/2 t cinnamon

Directions

  • Mix all dry ingredients for crushed mix, then cut in butter with a pastry cutter or fork until mixture is crumbly:

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  • Pat 1/2 the mixture into an ungreased 11X16 pan or large cookie sheet with sides.  Bake at 350 degrees for about ten minutes, just until set looking.

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  • Mix all filling ingredients and bring to a boil and simmer for ten minutes, stirring frequently.  Pour zucchini mixture onto baked crust and spread to the edges, leaving a small edge of crust.  Sprinkle remaining crushed mix over filling.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, until top just begins to brown a bit.

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  • After the pan cools completely, cut into bars with a sharp knife.

I layer the bars between sheets of wax paper in a large Tupperware container and store it in our basement freezer.  You can also store some in the refrigerator for immediate consumption.  They taste best chilled in my opinion.

 

Complete Guide to Home Canning: useful, thorough, and free!

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Occasionally the government does something rather useful.  The National Center for Home Food Preservation is one of those useful things resulting from a partnership between the county extension at the University of Georgia and the United States Department of Agriculture.  If you go on their website, you can find the USDA’s Complete Guide to Home Canning, a free 196-page document broken into downloadable “guides”.  Here are the topics covered:

Guide 01: Principles of Home Canning
Guide 02: Selecting, Preparing, and Canning Fruit and Fruit Products
Guide 03: Selecting, Preparing, and Canning Tomatoes and Tomato Products
Guide 04: Selecting, Preparing, and Canning Vegetables and Vegetable Products
Guide 05: Preparing and Canning Poultry, Red Meats, and Seafood
Guide 06: Preparing and Canning Fermented Food and Pickled Vegetables
Guide 07: Preparing and Canning Jams and Jellies

If you are new to canning, read Guide 1.  It’s only about 35 easy-to-read pages long but it covers all the basics in a simple fashion.  I used a recipe for pickles from one of the guides and it was very easy to follow.   The recipes aren’t gourmet but they are straightforward, and they base their processing suggestions on research into the temperatures and times needed to safely kill all microorganisms for various foods.

Preserving the harvest: making and canning mock “apple” pie filling using your overgrown zucchini.

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Psst…hey you, you wanna buy a zucchini?  I can get you a great deal on half a ton! 😉

My zucchini vines overfloweth…image

Now I like zucchini and will happily eat it sauteed with garlic, onions, and tomatoes every night.  Unfortunately, no one else in this house cares for zucchini…or at least they think they don’t care for it.  What the younger people here do not know, and what the older ones only learned after admitting they liked what they were eating, is that they actually love zucchini desserts.  A devious mama who wants her little ones to eat zucchini simply makes mock apple pie, mock apple crumble, mock apple strudel, or zucchini chocolate cake and stays mum about the switcheroo.

I found a recipe for canned zucchini pie filling and decided it was perfect for dealing with a half dozen monster-sized overgrown zucchini.  Example:
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I made some minor adjustments to the recipe, most importantly by increasing the processing time and pressure.  Here is what I did…

Ingredients

24 c of peeled, seeded, and sliced zucchini
2 c lemon juice
3 c white sugar
1 1/2 c brown sugar, firmly packed
4 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
2 Tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
3/4 tsp caradom
3/4 tsp ground cloves
3/4 tsp allspice
1 tsp ginger
1 Tbsp vanilla

Directions

  • Wash and peel zucchini. Cut in half lengthwise, scoop out seeds, and then cut into slices about 1/4 inch thick; try to make them look like apple slices.

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Here is a tip my mother taught me for when you are measuring many cups of something into a pot or bowl.  Start by making a little dish of “markers”; I put 24 slices of zucchini into this dish and then each time I dumped a cup into the stock pot, I added one “marker” slice.  That way when I ran out of slices, I knew I had put in the right number of cups.  This is helpful if you are constantly being interrupted by children wanting lunch, puppies needing to go outside, or teenagers asking if you will drive them out to Clear Lake, and you lose mental count of how many cups you’ve added.

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  • Place zucchini into a stock pot, add the lemon juice and bring to a boil, then simmer 15 – 20 minutes until a greenish color but not quite transparent.
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  • Mix together remaining dry ingredients in a bowl while the zucchini is cooking:
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  • Add dry ingredients and vanilla to cooked zucchini; cook for about 5-7 minutes until it thickens somewhat.
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  • Ladle into hot quart-size canning jars and then wipe off jars and rims.  Put on lids and rings.
  • Process in a pressure canner at 6 pounds of pressure for 10 minutes.

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  • Use as you would homemade apple pie filling.
The woman who originally posted the recipe didn’t mention how much it would yield, but I got 5 quarts out of it.  A quart contains four cups, which is enough filling to make a 9-inch pie, so this will make five pies for us next winter.
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This is the first time I’ve made this particular recipe, so I tasted some of the filling before I canned it, and I’m telling you, it tastes almost exactly like apples.  Don’t tell anyone it’s zucchini and they’ll never know!  It’s less goopy than store-bought filling, so I might thicken it with a tablespoon of flour sprinkled over it when I dump it into the pie crust.
Check out the Self-Reliance Blog for more recipes making mock fruit fillings from zucchini:
I think I’m going to try her mock lemon pie filling next, after I have my eldest daughter make a chocolate zucchini cake to bring out to the lake with her friends tomorrow.  Naturally I will tell her to refer to it simply as a chocolate cake…