Peach Preserves

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I love canning. It’s a ridiculous amount of work at totally the wrong time of year, when you consider how much time you spend stirring boiling fruit over a hot stove in close proximity to a giant pot of boiling water, but then you get these shining jewel-colored jars of delight. Something about lining up homemade preserves on shelves makes me feel like no matter what the economy does, everything is OK.

I don’t have a pressure canner, so I really only do fruits, pickles, and tomatoes (though I know lately the Ag Extensions have been reporting that the acidity of tomatoes is just on the borderline). Sometime I’ll have to get a pressure canner, but really that’ll wait until I have a really big garden — otherwise, why bother? Right now I have plenty of room in our small chest freezer for leftover vegetables.

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I didn’t grow these peaches, but they’re from Michigan — Benton Harbor, actually. I’ve been there! I bought Michigan sugar, but just regular ol’ Sure-Jell, of whose provenance I am unsure. I got about 4.5lb of peaches, which worked out perfectly. Originally I wanted to do three batches: One plain, with the skins on; one with cinnamon and nutmeg; and one with vanilla. After I got everything out I realized I was only going to have about seven jars, so I decided just to do plain old preserves… but with half the skins left on, because I like the texture it gives to the finished product.

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First thing was to peel some of the peaches. I used slightly underripe fruit; the pectin in fruit hits its maximum level just before the fruit is fully ripe, and goes downhill from there. I find I can use less sugar and still get good peach flavor with fairly firm peaches. Just cut an X in the blossom end (opposite of the stem end), drop into simmering water for a minute, then plunge immediately into ice water. The skin becomes fairly easy to slip off. I had 10 peaches and skinned 6 of them. Witness the peach carnage!

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I’ve had a few incidents with slippery knives and sticky hands, so at this point I just squished them through my fingers like I do with whole peeled tomatoes, thus killing two birds with one peach pit (ha! ha!) — getting the fruit into small pieces and removing the pits. Despite the appearance of the cutting board, I just did this directly into the saucepot.

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Now would perhaps be a good time to mention that while all this peach dissection was taking place, I had my canning pot (really, it’s a large stockpot) going with gently boiling water, in which I sterilized the jars and bands for about ten minutes. The lids, because of the heat-activated seal, go into a smaller pot and I just pour boiling water over them and let it cool. Everything then goes to rest on the towel on the left; it’s really best not to set hot glass jars onto a solid surface because the temperature change can cause shock and breakage.

P1040703For this batch, I essentially followed the directions in the Sure-Jell Low Sugar box; it calls for 3c of granulated sugar, but I went with about 2-3/4c because I knew my fruit probably had a decent amount of its own pectin. The sugar is measured out, then 1/4c is set aside and mixed with the box of Sure-Jell (1.75oz), then added to the fruit — which I cooked for a little bit on its own and went over with a potato masher, just a little, to avoid GIANT CHUNKS.

P1040705Then, the truly exciting part begins. By this point the jars were sitting on the towel, awaiting their delicious new contents, and I was standing in front of the stove with a wooden spoon and wishing I’d thought to make myself some tea. Luckily, it was about 60F and windy, so I had a nice breeze coming in. To make jams and preserves, you really have got to bring the mixture to a full rolling boil. I have cooked with several people who get something to the point of just simmering, decide they are tired of staring at it, and declare it to be at a full rolling boil. Nope. You need to wait until it’s still bubbling vigorously even while you stir. It takes longer than it should, so you should probably make yourself tea first.

Once a full rolling boil has been reached, you add the rest of the sugar, return to — guess what? — a full rolling boil again, and boil for one minute. At this point it’s good to work fast, and if you have a wide-mouthed canning funnel (I don’t), it’s a bit easier. Ladle the fruit into the jars, leaving at least 1/4″ of empty space at the top so they can seal. Wipe down the threads and jar lips (if you don’t, they might not seal, and that’s more of a pain than doing it in the first place), and put the lids on. You want to tighten the ring fairly tightly for the sealing process, so water doesn’t sneak into your lovely preserves — I feel like I’ve said this before. Have I? After they’re sealed, you can take the ring off altogether, since the seal is at the lid, but nobody wants boiling water strong-arming its way into the jam party. It helps to use a towel to hold onto the jars while you tighten the rings down — they’re really hot. No, really.

P1040714Gently lower the jars into your canning pot; it’s really a good idea to use a canning rack, and I should have. I don’t worry about it as much with a gas stove but I was convinced the electric cooktop was going to overheat the glass and make everything go explosionary. The water must cover the jars by at least 1-2″; it’s a good idea to have another, smaller pot of water boiling so you can top up as needed. Bring the water to a gentle boil, throw a lid on there, and boil for 10 minutes, assuming your altitude is about sea level. After that, you can take the jars out, again gently, and again set them on a towel to cool.

P1040716It is at this point that my favorite part of the entire process takes place. As the remaining air in the jar cools, it shrinks, creating a vacuum seal, and you’ll hear the jar lids go “ping!” as each one seals. The cats think it’s pretty hilarious, too. If you don’t want to sit around and count pings, you can come back later and test the seals — the lids shouldn’t pop up and down when pressed, like baby food jars. If they do, the seal’s no good, and you should either refrigerate those and use them right away, or reprocess — which, yes, involves reheating the fruit, refilling the jars, etc. When I wipe the jars down well, I almost never have problems with sealing. Maybe one jar in 20 will have a sealing failure, and that’s probably an overestimate.

Let everything cool down; the pectin, like Jell-O, won’t really set for real until it’s cool. Actually, sometimes it takes up to two weeks to set (I’m looking at you, apricots), which is a mystery I haven’t bothered to Google yet. Label the jars, because even though you think you’ll remember what’s what, there will be a time next year when you can’t remember what this orange gunk in a jar is. I like peach preserves with cottage cheese, oatmeal, or crackers and cream cheese. Or toast.

Peach Preserves

  • 4.5lb peaches, washed, partially peeled if you like, and chopped or smashed fairly coarsely
  • 3c/375g sugar (I used 2-3/4c because of underripe fruit having more pectin)
  • 1 box Sure-Jell LOW SUGAR pectin

This should yield about 7 or 8-8oz. jars of preserves. Enjoy!

My Monkeys: Or, an Adventure in Socks

One Little Monkey

One Little Monkey

As you’ve probably gathered by now, I enjoy knitting. But every year in the summer, something happens. I would just blame it on the hot weather, except that we do have that modern innovation known as air conditioning. Whatever it is, all my knitting motivation goes straight out the window. So the return of cooler weather and the beginning of fall is really my favorite time of year. Right now, it’s 67F at 1pm. I know it’s going to get hotter again before the season changes in earnest, but I can pretend, right?

Once it starts cooling down, I start knitting again. I’ve got a backlog of custom orders and swaps at the moment, but I kept picking them up and going “nnnngh.” So I decided to knit something for myself first. Something fun and relatively quick to get me back into the habit, right?

The result is this one of a pair of Monkey socks by Cookie A. It’s the first of her patterns I’ve knitted, and I really like it. I’m usually a toe-up kind of girl when knitting socks, and this is cuff-down, but it’s very intuitive and the lace pattern is easy to memorize. I’m working on the second sock now and I don’t even have the pattern in front of me (though I will probably give it a look before I get to the gusset).

The yarn is from Dyeabolical Yarns. I have a confession to make. Usually I love handpainted yarns on the skein. They look so appealing and delicious. And then I knit with them and kind of go “eeeeeh, meh,” because they make weird stripes and blotches and aren’t actually my thing. I ordered this yarn because it was so very pretty in the picture, and guess what? I LOVE IT. It may have changed my mind about multi-colored socks. It’s kettle dyed, so the variegations are different, with much shorter runs of color. I love working with it, because the color is constantly changing in my hands, making it entertaining to watch. I will definitely be trying other colors of her yarn because I’m so pleased with this one. (The twist is nice and tight, no splitting problems either.)

I’ve actually cast on the second sock and am halfway through the cuff, so I’m hoping to have a wearable pair by Monday. Bring on the cooler weather — I’ve got yarn for a sweater on the way! I mean, after I finish the 8 pairs of mitts and a scarf.

Menu Plan Monday: Actually, it’s Sunday. Again.

This is another use-it-up week, because the items on sale are mostly not food related, and I want to make peach preserves and pickles. That means the grocery budget needs to go to those things instead of to exciting ingredients. I’m also meeting a friend for dinner tomorrow night, so overall it’s a good week to clear out the freezer.

I failed at posting recipes last week. I forgot to take pictures, and I keep saying to myself that I want to post pictures with recipes, because I think it makes them more interesting. So I’ll either decide to post this week sans photos, or I won’t. I’m not sure. What do you think?

  • MONDAY – Jing Chuan with Sheryl. I anticipate a great deal of hot and sour soup and dumplings.
  • TUESDAY – Chicken kiev (from frozen), scalloped potatoes, frozen vegetable, sliced tomatoes.
  • WEDNESDAY – Crock pot barbeque pork with onions (shredded on sandwiches), french fries, sliced tomatoes, canteloupe.
  • THURSDAY – Barbeque pork fried rice (using leftover rice from my lunch), sliced tomatoes.
  • FRIDAY – Some sort of crumb-encrusted baked fish, haluski, sliced tomatoes.
  • SATURDAY – Schwan’s chicken pot pies (review forthcoming), salad, sliced tomatoes.
  • SUNDAY – I’m leaving Sunday open again so I have a spot for something that strikes my fancy. This week we’re having spinach and mushroom pizza, and I’m glad we are, because it sounds tasty.

This week’s menu has a common side dish! Did you notice it? Ha, ha. Have a look at the other Menu Plan Monday participants, too! Thanks as always to the Organizing Junkie for hosting.

Guacamole

Guacamole

Guacamole

I’m not sure I want to admit this in public, but avocados give tomatoes a run for their money in my “favorite foods of summer” category. I like to eat them on toast, in a fashion similar to Tomatoes on Toast, only without the mayonnaise. Actually, they make a good substitute for the mayonnaise. Also good? Avocado, turkey, bacon and tomato — on toast, naturally.

Sometimes, though, I do branch out into non-sandwich territories; shocking, I know. Guacamole is one of my favorite things to eat. When I lived in Columbus, there was a 24-hour taqueria that served guacamole. When you ordered, they broke out the avocado, smashed it together with some onion, cilantro, salt and lime juice, and filled a small styrofoam takeout container. For about three bucks. That, a spoon and a glass of horchata made up my dinner many, many nights after getting off work at the restaurant. At 2am.

When I make guacamole at home, I follow a progression similar to my method for tomato enjoyment. At first, I just use lime juice and salt; later in the week I’ll add onion and cilantro, and if I’m feeling crazy I might put some tomatoes in there too. Garlic, too, sometimes. It’s not one of those things that lends itself to recipes, but I tried to pay attention a few minutes ago so I could give you a recipe. Please feel free to scale up or down, add or subtract ingredients, and otherwise do as you please. It does go brown quickly, but I find it freezes pretty well. I always toss a pit in the freezer bag, though I don’t know if that helps it to stay green while it thaws. I figure it can’t hurt, right?

Guacamole

  • 4 medium avocados
  • juice of half a lime
  • 1t kosher salt
  • 1 small white or red onion, chopped, optional
  • handful of fresh cilantro leaves, chopped, optional (don’t use the stems for this)
  • 1 medium tomato, chopped, optional (I recommend removing the pulpy seed bits)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced, optional

Cut the avocados in half. I do this by slicing around the pit, then twisting; if they’re reasonably ripe, the pit will come free easily. If not, the guacamole might not be very good and you might want to stop and use them sliced on sandwiches instead. Or you can whack the pit with your knife; it will stick to the blade, but don’t hit too hard or you’ll have the devil of a time removing it. Remember, they’re slippery.

Squoosh or spoon the avocado flesh into a bowl, and add the remaining ingredients. Go easy on the lime juice at first. Its strength really varies wildly from lime to lime. If you’re going for a chunky texture, just smash a few times with a fork and lightly blend everything together; this is what I usually prefer. But sometimes you want something that’ll make a good sandwich spread when the tortilla chips run out, in which case, break out a spoon and mash it down to a smooth texture. Taste for seasoning; add more lime or salt if necessary. I like to let the flavors meld for about five minutes before eating.

If you’re going to freeze some, do it right away, before it starts to oxidize.

A Little Tea

Circular Tea Swap Tea

Circular Tea Swap Tea

I love tea. So I count myself lucky to be a participant in the BPAL.org circular tea swap that’s running right now. Essentially, there is a giant box of tea — see contents above — making its way around the country. Each person receives the box, tries various teas, replaces as much as they took with OTHER teas, and sends it on along. There are easily 50+ kinds here (I’ll update with a real total when I get through them all). It’s tea madness!

I love drinking tea. It’s a little ritual that makes me feel more anchored, and more at home. I don’t actually drink much hot tea in the summer; I’ve never gotten the “hot beverages cool you down” effect, much as I’ve tried. But I do like iced tea, and sweet tea. Still, it’s best when the weather starts to cool (which actually it’s not doing right now — it’s getting hotter, but a girl can pretend) and I feel like I can cuddle up with a cup of tea, a book, and a comfy sweater. I doubt it gets much better unless, of course, there’s a teapot and a tea cozy involved.

My favorite teas are English Breakfast (with just a touch of milk, no sugar), gunpowder green, and Zhenya’s Coconut Chai. I like lots of herbal teas (really tisanes, yes?) as well. I suspect my time with the swap box will introduce some new favorites.

Menu Plan Monday: Virtual Dinner Party Edition

This week I did a little menu planning for my good friend El at Crafty Clutter, so if things go according to plan we’ll be eating the same meals a few nights this week even though we’re in different countries. OK, I’m in Michigan and she’s in Canada, but it sort of counts, right? There are some small differences (I only have chicken, while she also has some pork to work with; she hates mushrooms but I love them) but I think it’s kind of neat. Even though we can’t have dinner together in “real life,” we can eat the same thing and chat online.

There isn’t much on this menu that isn’t already in the pantry, so it’s a frugal week here, too. Mostly because tomorrow we’re heading to the Japanese market, and I plan to get an Orange Page magazine, some Kewpie mayo, and a whole lot of umeboshi and rice. Plus curry roux and other things for future meals. Zack actually likes Japanese home cooking quite a lot, so it’s a big hit here.

If a menu item has a * in front of it, that means I’ll be trying to post the recipe this week, with a photo tutorial! I didn’t get one for the picadillo, because, though it was good, I think I need to tweak it just a tiny bit and then it will be ready for the light of day.

  • MONDAY – Nachos with shredded chicken, cheese, jalapenos, sour cream.
  • TUESDAY – *Slow-cooker chicken cacciatore, pasta, salad.
  • WEDNESDAY – *Sauteed mustard chicken with a pan sauce, rice, frozen veggies.
  • THURSDAY – *Mee Goreng… sort of. With chicken. If you aren’t familiar, this is a really tasty stir-fried Malaysian noodle dish. It involves kecap manis. Mmmm. Thursday is also the first pre-season game for the Steelers, so we’ll be snacking while watching, I think.
  • FRIDAY – Fish and haluski; most likely I will pick up some frozen white fish of some sort at Trader Joe’s tomorrow and bake it for this meal.
  • SATURDAY – Chicken pot pies from Schwan’s, which I will have cleverly obtained by signing up for their free food promotion. New customers are eligible for a free food item up to $10. Worth checking out! I’ve never eaten their food so I can’t say if it’s good or bad yet, but I’ll report back.
  • SUNDAY – I’m going to leave Sunday open, because every week I end up finding some inspiration or craving and I wish I had a space in the menu for it. If I don’t (that would be weird), we’ll collaborate with the in-laws and figure out what sounds good for everyone. Steak frites? Hmmmm.