Tuesday, July 29, 2008


So like anyone else planning a u-pick expedition, I am delayed by late springs.  That is the buzz in the orchards and fields.  Cool weather, fewer bees, slow, late or small crop.   My own beans seem to be faring pretty well.  But I am growing Romano green beans and don't know if they are an earlier crop then the typical pole beans like kentucky wonder or blue lake.  I definitely have enough to pick and eat daily of my Romanos and yesterday I froze up a 1/2 pound for some later meal sometime.  Which brings me to freezing foods.

Freezing foods is one of the ways to preserve the yield.  It is fast, easy and given adequate freezer space, very effective.  There are a few rules for freezing well however.  Anyone can shove something in the freezer but taking something out of the freezer that has been worth your time is another things.

So here are some points to consider.

First, is the temperature low enough?  For best quality the temp should be at zero degrees or lower.  Buy a thermometer to check.  Holding foods at proper temperatures is really a quality issue since most folks freezers freeze but not just low enough.  The simply guide is your ice cream -- if it is soft enough to scoop out of the container then the freezer is too warm.  And this lower temperature will effect quality.  In the case of a green bean, my guide to food preservation from the University of Georgia indicates that frozen green beans stored at zero degrees will keep in good quality for one year, at 10 degrees for three months, at 20 degrees for three weeks and at 30 degrees five days.  So you get the picture.

Check, if you can, to learn the freezing capacity of you freezer or how much product can be frozen per cubic feet.  Usually this is 2 - 3 pounds per cubic foot over a 24 hour period of time.  So don't freeze all the berries or beans or cow at the same time.  Once the first batch is properly frozen, go onto the next.  If your serious about freezing foods invest in a good freezer.  I got a chest freezer for my birthday a couple of years ago.  Pretty homesteady I know but hey, I was happy.  I use it a lot.  

Choose containers that can offer good, air-tight seals.  I also got a vaccum sealer for a present and that, too, melts my butter (so to speak).  I like to freeze my berries in a single layer on a cookie sheet for quick, individual freezes and then throw the frozen marbles in the bag for some serious air removing suction action.  That keeps them in great condition because there is no air there to allow freezer burn or deteriorate the quality of my berries.  And that is the issue - quality.  You can use regular freezer bags (marked as such - thicker then reg.) but try and get out the air when you close them.  You can use plastic containers if you want but put something in the top like a crumpled plastic bag to fill in the space between the contents and lid to use up the air space.  You can use glass containers (heavy as in for canning) but remember to leave space for the foods to expand.  I use bottles for freezing chicken stock or tomatoes but do leave one inch head space in a narrow neck jar and two inches head space in a wide neck (there are only two size necks so you can figure out what I mean).  I generally leave freezing in bottles to liquid contents and solid contents like berries or beans to the bag.

Proper preparation is important.  Some things like berries can be frozen straight off the farm.  They do not require any pretreatment except maybe washing which I admit to skipping sometime (only if they are organic).  Most fruits would be fine to freezing flat on the tray but some, like apples for example, really don't take to freezing unless you intend to just cook them up into sauce later. I do freeze peach slices on the tray and then through into a vacuum bag but only when I'm tired of canning them.  You can freeze them in a syrup which works to improve the texture but I think they hold up best in canning. Which is another topic.  Knowing which foods lend themselves to which process is helpful.  They all will generally work for all foods but some varieties will fare better.  Which is why I was talking about Romano beans in the first place.  They freeze better, which actually means taste better, then regular pole beans. But with regard to vegetables, you need to blanch them to get best quality. 

I admit to finding the blanching times given in most extension guides hard to follow.  They seem so long.  But I'm sure they know something.  I don't worry too much if I skim time off the suggested time because I know it will only be a matter of quality not safety.  So decide how long you want to blanch them before freezing but do blanch them.  It works to slow down the enzyme action that is present and instructed by universal law to decompose fruits and vegetables.  When you blanch them first - you are slowing down the action.  Then you freeze them - more slow down.  Again, traditional guides are more aggressive then me but there you have it.  That is a quality issue not safety.  Which is another topic all together.

I'll mention this only briefly but since so many folks ask me this I want to interject here that there is a difference between preserving foods that will have the best quality to preserving for safety.  Jam is safe without all that sugar or acid or pectin only it will not be jam.  It will be syrup or cooked fruit.  Once you seal it properly and in the required time it will be shelf stable until you open it.  Then store it in the fridge.  High acid foods like fruit are safe from botulism which is the thing most folks worry about.  Low acid foods like vegies are a different story but if you freeze them - which is the topic of this post - you will be fine.  Again, proper freezing at the right temperature, in the right container, with the best quality and variety will get you the best product on the other end.  Nothing tastes better coming out of the freezer then it did going in which is a rule of thumb in food preservation.  Best quality and techniques going in, best quality coming out.  But again - this is a quality issue not a safety one. 

Finally, label stuff and use it within a year.  Again -not a safety issue but a quality one. 

Do pick up a book on this stuff so you will have something to refer to but I encourage you to incorporate it into your preserving efforts.  But be selective - there is only so much room in there so don't get lazy and freeze it all.  Some stuff works better in other techniques so learn them all.   

So this morning I am going to make some more jam - loganberries await, can up some more of my apple pectin (lord let this be the last), can up some of my kraut - I made tons for demonstration for my classes, and quick pickle some of my emerging kentucky wonder green beans.  Pickling????  Next post.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Green Beans

For some reason I like the flavor of canned green beans.  I also love them fresh and eat them like crazy off the vines and bushes.  I grow a lot but not really enough for any serious canning. I'm sure in a week I'll be tired of eating them every night but still, I only have enough to put up a jar or two of pickled green beans.  I read an article the other day in the Oregonian that used some rosemary and lemon slices in with the pickled green beans that sounded good and I think I'll do that.

As an update.  You pickle green beans because they are low in acid.  Once you add the vinegar to them (and follow a tested recipe for that - you can order good simple primers from OSU Extension or get the blue book.  Mirador Community store has some), you have "acidified" them which makes them safe for canning in a boiling water canner.  That is a process distinctly separate from a pressure canner that gets temperatures inside the jar to 24o degrees as opposed to a water boiling canner that only gets temps to 212 degrees.  And you need the pressure canner if you are going to can your green beans without vinegar.  

Actually, that is the same with all vegetables.  They are low acid and fruits are high acid.  Low acid foods, unless properly acidified (adding vinegar or proper fermentation -- a whole other story) must be canned with a pressure canner.  You can freeze them of course but I never like the way frozen beans taste.  Except my Romano green beans which I do like frozen but only when I cook them first with tomatoes and onions and garlic and herbs and what not.  Then I just freeze up that stew and defrost it in winter when I'm ready.  I really like them.

But for off the shelf eating I like canned green beans and probably will cook them up with a little bacon when the time comes.  Oh gosh, I'm so country but I like it.  So I'm going picking with mom and marge on tuesday and pressure canning up a ton.  And as a head's up, Preserve will be offering a pressure canning class on August 13th that will be sure to fill in a heart beat.  I guess if there is interest in the group I can offer another workshop at my home separate from Preserve proper.  Let me know if anyone is interested.

Oh yeah, I'm talking to the portland urban homesteaders now.  I get so confused.  There is my website and my column on Culinate and  the pdx urban homesteaders and now this blog.  You kids! I still remember using mag cards before computers were the rage.  But that is a long time ago particularly in a world where one year offers so many changes.

And maybe that is why I like growing food and preserving.  It keeps me grounded in a world of tides and seasons.  My body, mind and spirit thanks me for it.

Non-setting Jam

Funny, after all my teaching and talking I made a jam that did not set.  I guess I was trying to see how low I could go with time and sugar.  I would have been fine had I let the pot cook a few more minutes - even one minute would have done it but I was curious.  

I used 4 cups mashed berries - strawberries, marionberries, blackberries and two cups sugar.  

I added 1 cup red currant juice since I had some on hand and 2/3 cups apple pectin.  

It is still delicious and sets well enough on a english muffin but would slide out the sandwich if I took it to the edges.  

In all I think I cooked it 15 minutes or so and should have taken it a bit longer.  But I have also found that cane berry jams will look very different in the pan then strawberries.  I haven't made blueberry jam yet this year but I suppose that will look different to.  And what I mean by that is there is a difference in texture, thickness and overall consistency when judging when it is ready to come off the stove.

Since I do not use thermometers I am dependent on smell and appearance.  Strawberry jam alone seems to need a cooking that "parts the waters".  By that phrase I mean I usually cook the jam until I can take my spoon across the bottom of my pan and see the bottom of the pot for a second before the jam flows over it again.  I do not do that when using cane berries and certainly not when I have added currant juice to the mix.  This has something to do with the natural pectin amount in the fruits and, I suppose, cellular structure of the different fruits.  

When using cane berries I stop before the "parting of the seas" since that would be too long for my liking.  I stop just before then.  But then you will understand all this once you get in there and start making it.  You just have to do it yourself and experience the variances.  That is the one thing about making jam without pectin in the box.  You will have to learn by doing.  The formula on the instructions in the pectin box is "foolproof" but also requires lots of sugar - much more then you will like and certainly takes out all the skill, quality and personal creativity out of the effort.

In the end, if I want to set my jam a little more I can unseal it and put it back in the pan, bring it back to the boil (I can do this cause I am using natural pectin - you can't with the boxed stuff) and cook it another minute before sealing again.  That is totally doable.  But I'm happy and think I will get some loganberries and more marion berries and see what I can do.  

And remember, you can make jam with frozen berries too so if you don't have the time or inclination to make jam with your fresh berries.  Just stow them away for a while and make it when the kitchen and seasons have turned cool again.  The smell of jam making on a cool winter's morning ain't half bad.   Just thaw the berries before you start and then follow the basic formula - 4 cups berries or juice.  Two to three cups sugar.  2/3 cups apple pectin (cooked with the fruit for a minute or so before adding the sugar to the pot) and a little lemon juice if your berries need an acid punch (you can tell this by taste - acid helps in the gelling) and cook once it is at a full boil for anywhere from 12 to 20 minutes depending on your berries, pan and heat source.



Thursday, July 24, 2008

Starting Today - Apple Pectin

With the help of friends I have decided to start this blog site.  It is meant to offer folks a timely review of what is happening in my preserving kitchen throughout the seasons.  Right now it is all about making apple pectin.

Funny, but the other day I met with some old timers in the Extension study group program (more on that later) and they whipped out a copy of a sheet on making pectin from apples last printed in March 2000.  Even my good friend Marge, a retired home economist, didn't know about it.  So again, I am reminded that there is a lot of really good information about there that has gotten lost or went to the wayside when folks wanted convenience (boxed pectin) over natural pectin (from apples).

So now is the time.  Early drop apples and later, crabapples, are the way to go for making pectin.  The recipe for both making it and using it can be found on my website www.portlandpreserve.com so I won't go into it other then to say now is the time.  I like to make a lot at this time of year so I have it on hand when it is strawberry season again.  Strawberries, unlike other high pectin fruit, require the addition of pectin to make the jam jam.  That's where the apple pectin comes in.  

Today I am going out to pick marionberries and loganberries if I can find a place.  They require less pectin then strawberries but if I don't add a little currant juice (currants are in the market now) I will add a little apple pectin for good measure.  Again, all the information about making, using and storing apple pectin is on my website but I wanted you to think about making the stuff now and canning or freezing it for future use.  It's what's up in my preserving kitchen today.