How to pack okra for pickles

Sat, Jul 14 • 0

After you’ve trimmed off a bit of the stem end, and a bit of the pointy end, pack your one pint sterilized jars with okra, first filling the bottom with the enough okra to fill the bottom of the jar, thick end pointing down. Then cram as many more as you can in between then, thick end pointing up. Then tuck in as many tiny okra as you can in and around the top area. 2 pounds of okra should fill about 5 pint jars.

Making Marinara

Thu, Aug 28 • 0

Well, I’ve spent the afternoon making marinara sauce with whats left of the huge batch of tomatoes I bought the other day. Some of the tomatoes have gotten a little tender in spots, but I’ve only had to throw away two of them because of mold, and I’ve nearly used up the last of them all. I’m not making a full blown tomato sauce with them, but just processing them so that they’ll be more versatile down the road. What I’m making could be turned into tomato sauce later on, but it can also be used for a lot of other things, too. No salt yet, either. I can add that when I’m ready to cook again with them. This is one of the more foolproof canning projects, since tomatoes are so high in acid. This recipe makes about 5 pints, or 2 quarts of marinara.

So here’s a rundown of the ingredients for each batch :

6 lbs. tomatoes, peeled, and diced
1 large sweet onion
1 small pinch red pepper flakes
2 cloves garlic, chopped
¼ cup water
bunch fresh basil leaves
¼ cup red wine vinegar (optional)

  • Bring a big pot of water to the boil. Cut an X in the bottom of each tomato, and dunk it in the boiling water for 30-60 seconds. Remove and immediately plunge into cold water. The skins should peel right off.
  • Core and chop the tomatoes. (Optionally, you can also remove the seeds and the seed membrane before chopping them.)
  • In a heavy bottomed pot, heat up a couple tablespoons of olive oil, and add the chopped onion, and allow it to sweat, about 10 mins. Then add the pinch of red pepper flakes and garlic. Stir in the tomatoes, the water, and the vinegar. Cover, and let it come to a good boil, about 5 minutes.
  • Remove the cover, stir, and lower the heat, and allow it to gently boil for 45 more minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • 5 or 10 minutes before it’s done, stir in the basil leaves, and some more chopped garlic, if desired.

This is a good starting point for your own homemade tomato sauce, but if you’re making multiple batches, like I am, follow the standard canning method — sterilized jars, lids, and tools. If you’ve been reading this blog all summer, I’m sure you know the drill by now. If you want to make a smoother sauce, you could run it through a food mill. In any case, fill the jars leaving a little head room. Put on the lids, then process the sealed jars in a hot water bath that covers the lids by at least 1 inch, and boil for 35 minutes for pint jars, 45 minutes for quart jars. Store in a cool, dark place, and use within a year.  Be sure and examine anything you’ve canned for any signs of deterioration, or spoilage, and discard it if you find any. More canning info can be found at

Pickling in the News

Thu, Aug 28 • 0

“[P]ickles are kind of show-offy, even more so than bread. If you make your own, for some reason, it really knocks people out.”

The Washington Post has a longish article on a local woman who is starting a small business venture producing her own pickles. It details a few recipes (spicy dill pickle spears, dilled green beans) as well as general tips on keeping your canning process sterile to avoid the possibility of foodborne illnesses.

“First she sterilizes jars in boiling water that’s at least an inch over the top of the jars for 10 minutes… You want to take jars out of the water one by one, so they stay sterilized… a cooled jar has a greater chance of cracking once the ingredients hit it… Do not reuse lids… Before sealing, she removes air bubbles with a nonmetallic stick such as a skewer, a chopstick or the plastic one that comes with most canning kits. Metallic ones are more apt to break the glass.

A Tale of Two Recipes : Homemade Ketchup

Wed, Aug 27 • 1

Lesson learned : When you see a recipe that looks good on a cooking show, write it down, because the corresponding recipe on the program’s website may be very different.

Yesterday, I tried making a batch of Jamie Oliver’s homemade ketchup recipe, as he demonstrated on his episode on pickling and preserving, on Jamie at Home. The recipe I downloaded has you brown off a red onion with half a fennel bulb, a stalk of celery, then add freshly ground coriander, a couple of whole cloves, some ginger root, some garlic, a red chili, and the stems of a bunch of basil. Then you could mix up a pound of fresh tomatoes with a pound of canned crushed tomatoes (or use all fresh tomatoes), and a cup and a half of water. Simmer that for 45 minutes, add the leaves from the basil, whiz in a blender, strain, and then add sugar and vinegar, and simmer for a long time until it was reduced by half. I followed the recipe to the letter, and while the resulting ketchup was pretty good, I found it to be entirely too sweet, plus the purpose of reserving the basil leaves until the end was supposed to provide a punch of fresh flavor, but simmering it forever to reduce it to the proper consistency completely undoes that.

Luckily, I had the episode saved on the DVR, and so I sat through the segment again, and the one he did on television ended up looking a lot redder than the stuff I ended up with. Also, he didn’t have the celery, used fennel seeds, didn’t add the water, used twice the amount of fresh tomatoes as the recipe on the web called for. He didn’t do the two step method, but added the vinegar and sugar during the first step.

So since I have plenty of tomatoes, I tried making a batch using the recipe he gave on the program. The end result was something more like ketchup than the recipe on the site. Redder in color, and not nearly so sweet. If you’re going to go to the trouble of making homemade ketchup — and after making it, I can’t really say it’s worth the effort — I suggest you use the following recipe, which is from the television program, as best I can remember it…

1 large sweet onion, chopped
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
4 cloves
2 thumb-sized pieces of ginger, skinned and chopped
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 or 2 red chili peppers (optional)
good pinch of pepper and salt
2.2 lbs (1 kilo) ripe tomatoes, preferably cherry, chopped
the stalks from a handful of fresh basil, leaves reserved
1 liter of Passata (or the equivalent of canned tomato puree)
1 cup red wine vinegar
1 cup brown sugar

  • In a heavy bottom pan, sweat the chopped onion in olive oil to bring out their sweetness, for about 15 minutes.
  • Grind (in a mortar and pestle, or a coffee grinder dedicated to grinding spices) the whole coriander, fennel, and cloves, and add it to the onions.
  • Peel and chop the garlic and the ginger, and chop up the chili pepper, and add that.
  • Cut the fresh tomatoes and remove the seeds and membrane (optional), and add to the pan.
  • Add the passata/tomato puree, the basil stems (chopped) and stir in the vinegar and sugar. Bring to a boil and simmer for 30-45 minutes.
  • Remove from heat and add the basil leaves.
  • In a blender, working in batches, whiz it all until it’s a relatively smooth consistency.
  • Force through a sieve or use a food mill to get a completely smooth and thick paste.
  • Using sterilized bottles (either run through a hot, hot dishwasher; put in an 175° oven for 30 minutes, or boiled in water for 30 minutes), as well as a sterilized funnel and ladle, spoon in the mixture until nearly full.
  • Put on the sterilized lids, and process in a hot water canning bath for 30 minutes.
  • Store in a cool, dark place for up to 12 months. (Be sure and examine anything you’ve canned for any signs of deterioration, or spoilage, and discard it if you find any.)

“California Cold Process” – Real or Swindle?

Sat, Aug 23 • 0

This is an actual advertisement in the May 1904 issue of Women’s Home Journal, recently published on the Get Rich Slowly blog. I was intrigued by the “California Cold Process” for canning, so I did a google search. I came up with another article on Google Books from a periodical called “Gleanings from Bee Culture,” published in eight years earlier, in 1896. It says :

Your California cold process Is an out and out swindle; and the most shameful part of It Is, that various journals will accept this kind of advertisements and put them right In their reading-notices, without any caution or warning to their readers. I do not know whether the editors are stupid or Ignorant, or whether they are so lacking In conscience that they do not care how much their readers lose, providing they get the money for inserting the advertisement. Just one single point should be proof enough to anybody: This man Casey says he can put up a bushel of fruit In ten minutes. If this is true, why do men invest thousands of  dollars In putting up expensive canning-factories for canning peaches, vegetables, and other produce, when for 18 two-cent stamps they could learn how to put up fruit so that It will keep a year without spoiling, at the rate of a bushel In ten minutes? I do not know whether Francis Casey sends any samples of fruit or not. You can find out by investing 18 two-cent stamps. The thing was exposed years ago by the Rumi New Yorker and other periodicals. There is no process known for keeping fruit better than the ordinary well-known methods of canning. It is possible to put up sweet corn in your own home so it will keep; but it Is a difficult and laborious operation unless you have appropriate machinery. I know It would be a grand thing for each family to put up Its surplus stuff right at home; but the regular process by cauning Is the only safe and wholesome method. Rhubarb for pies, and some other garden products, may be kept In tolerable condition without heating, so I am told; but. If I am correct, It is an uncertain and risky business at the best.

P. S. — I will send the stamps for thn process and give it to you all In next Issue, if I get any thing.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find any records of what the California Cold Process actually involves. I’ll keep looking, though.

In Season Now : Plum Tomatoes

Mon, Aug 11 • 0

Roasted Balsamic Tomato Sauce will reward you with a delicious aroma while it cooks in the oven.

Every August, I end up making a couple of batches of this sauce, when the prices for plum tomatoes hits the floor, but it works equally as well with any kind of tomato you’ve got too many of in your garden.

Preheat your oven to 425° and spread olive oil all over the bottom of a sheet pan. Wash your plum tomatoes and slice them in half. Sometimes, I’ll use my thumb and pull out the seeds and pulp. If I’ve got the time, though, I’ll lay the tomatoes out, cut side down, on the sheet pan, and roast them by themselves for 30-45 minutes, allowing all the juices to dribble out, and thicken and caramelize. Take them out of the oven, and turn the tomatoes over, skin side down. Once that’s done (or if you’re pressed for time), mix a large onion, sliced, and a couple stalks of celery, chopped, and a few whole cloves of garlic, along with any other excess summer produce you’ve got, in a bowl with some more olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper, and spread it around the tomatoes — add a little more balsamic for the tomatoes, too. Roast in a hot oven for 45 – 60 minutes, or until everything is collapsed and roasted.

Allow it to cool a bit, and then transfer to a blender. You’ll probably get lots of sticky carmelized goodness left on the sheet pan, so deglaze on the stove top with a little water, and add that into the blender. Blend until smooth. Add more water for a smoother consistency, or use chunky, like a relish.

Since the tomatoes are high in acid, I plan on putting aside some jars for eating later this year, but you could freeze it, too. Tips for canning tomato sauce can be found on

In Season Now : Peaches

Wed, Jul 23 • 4

Stores are selling peaches at a cut-rate price now. Sweet and juicy, now’s the time to think about canning some so you can have that flavor all autumn and winter, too.

Look for the best you can find … firm, but that have a fragrance. Even if they’re a little under-ripe, they’ll ripen at home, unmolested by squeezy shoppers. (One firm squeeze is enough to bruise them.) To ripen at home, place your peaches in a paper sack with a couple of ripe bananas. These will exude ethylene gas, which triggers the peaches to ripen even more quickly than they normally would. Ripening can happen in as little as 12 hours, so buy enough so you can keep tasting one to test for sweetness.

I wouldn’t start with anything less than 10lbs of peaches, since it’s not worth the trouble to work with any less. And resist the temptation to use nectarines.. even though most people dislike the furry skin of a peach — we’ll be skinning them — nectarine flesh tends to stick hard onto the pit.

Wash the canning jars in the dishwasher, turning on all the features to make it the hottest, sterilizing wash you can manage. Don’t wash the lids with the little rubber rings, though. The heat will compromise their integrity, and could give you a bad seal. Instead, wash these in hot water with some bleach in it, then rinse them thoroughly.

To prepare your peaches, boil a large pot of water, and have a bowl of ice water handy. I worked in batches of 6 at a time, but if you’re working with help, you can set up a regular assembly line. Cut an X in the bottom of each peach, just enough to cut through the skin, as you drop it gently into the boiling water, and let them heat up for about 30 seconds. Remove them all to the ice water bath. The skin should satisfyingly peel off. (If at all resistant, just dunk it back into the hot water for a little longer, then into the ice water again.) You can try to cut the peaches into halves, or even the neat little sections you see in industrial canned peaches, but I found it easier to just cut them randomly, in mouth sized pieces, discarding the pit, and any bruised or brown parts — keeping a sharp eye out for any tooth-breaking bits they sometimes leave behind. Toss the cut segments with Fruit Fresh (powdered vitamin C) or lemon juice to prevent oxidation. Repeat these steps until you’ve processed all of your peaches.

Now, prepare your syrup mixture. I went with a mixture of apple juice and a little Splenda, and some spices (cinnamon and star anise). I found that one gallon (64 oz.) of juice is enough to fill 12 pint jars mostly full of peach segments. I used three small sticks of cinammon, and 2 whole star anise. Pick good quality apple juice, preferably with the least amount of additives and no sugar added. I used ¾ c of Splenda for a gallon of apple juice, but you can increase or decrease that, depending on the sweetness of your peaches. Heat this to a gentle boil.

Spoon the peaches into the sterilized jars, leaving a little space at the top. Then ladle the hot apple juice in, covering the top, but leaving a little headroom. Cover and attach the screwtop rings to finger tight.

Once you’ve gotten this far, you can rest for a little while. Put your biggest pot on to boil, with enough water to immerse your jars with an inch of water over them. When the water is at a full boil, carefully lower your jars into the hot water, and let them boil for at least 20 minutes — longer if you live at altitude. Then remove the jars and allow them to cool. In 24 hours, remove the screwtop rings, and check the seal. If any aren’t solid, set those jars aside, and eat them within a week, storing them in the fridge. As for the rest, keep them in a cool, dark area, away from heat sources, for up to 12 months. When you go to eat them later down the road, inspect them carefully when you open them. Any that have obvious signs of decay — mold, smell, etc. — discard immediately.

Here are some links for more information : — the public website of Ball jars and canning supplies, in the business since 1884. — has a great guide, including charts for making different kinds of syrup mixtures, as well as boiling times for the last canning step, depending on altitude.

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