Category: jelly

2014 canning round-up!

Canning round-up 2014 - Cupcake Rehab dot com

Spring is here, summer is coming in a few weeks. Which means I’m sure that most of you “canners” (or preservers, or dabblers) have started making your lists for spring/summer 2014, or even started canning already. If you even make lists at all- which I usually don’t, but I’m trying to be  more organized this year. I haven’t really stopped canning all year, myself, between apples & pears in the fall, & all the winter citrus fruits, then the rhubarb. But this is really the time to start to prepare for the canning boom… pickled cucumbers, carrots, zucchini, & berry jams & jellies, oh my.

So this year I thought I’d do a little preparation post slash canning round-up, and what better to feature in the post than some of my vintage jar collection & my 1945 Kerr Home Canning book!

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New Year’s Rockin’ Eve.

A vintage NYE! (click through for NYE recipes)

Well it’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, as Dick Clark would say. In just a few short hours, 2014 will be here. In case you’re lacking recipe ideas for today, I figured I’d give you some. Consider it a belated Christmas gift. Most of them require nothing more than a bottle of champagne & a quick run to the grocery store.

  • Champagne parfaits: A delicious & easy “champagne jell-O” that takes absolutely no time to make. A grown-up jell-O shot, if you will. Click here for the recipe.
  • Champagne jelly: Excellent melted on roast chicken, or as a topping on a chicken sandwich. And also excellent with cheese on crackers. But I’m sure you can come up with other uses! Recipe can be found here. (FYI: these jars were also a 2011 Well Preserved Pimp That Preserve winner!)
  • Champagne cupcakes: No explanation needed! Champagne cupcakes with sweet champagne frosting. Get the details right here.

This year I knew I wouldn’t be around; I’m presently packing to go to Connecticut. Jay is playing a show tonight at The Webster in Harftord, so I’m going with him. I’ll be back tomorrow afternoon.. so therefore no NYE recipes for me this year. Boo hoo. But also kind of exciting- it’s the first time he’s been off for NYE since 2009! And that means it’s also literally a New Year’s Rockin’ Eve.

I hope you all have a fantastic New Year’s Eve, and an even better 2014. See you next year…

Happy New Year... A NYE recipe compilation! And most things don't even require more than an extra bottle of bubbly.

Freshly minted.

Fresh mint! Turn it into jelly in less than 15 minutes!

One of the best parts of having a garden in the summer is the fresh herbs. I use my cilantro in tacos, salsa, guacamole & jasmine rice while the green coriander seeds go into pickles, I use the basil & oregano on fresh pizza, Caprese salad or in tomato sauce as well as drying some, the dill goes into pickles & gets dried for winter soups & sauces, the tarragon goes into flavored vinegar & gets dried, same goes for the sage, etc. Everything gets used, ultimately, whether it gets used fresh… or dried.

Mint is excellent when used fresh. It’s awesome in water or lemonade, or as a garnish on ice creams/sorbets. But if you’re growing mint & not making homemade mint jelly, you’re seriously missing out. Even if you don’t like it you probably know someone who loves to smear it on lamb chops or a leg of lamb, so gift it to them.

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Blogging is hard. But there are cookies.

Most likely as you read that title, you thought to yourself, “Oh boo hoo. Rough life, baking/cooking & blogging about it. Cry me a river.” I wouldn’t be angry with you if you did, it’s a valid point. I do write about cupcakes, after all. And aside from that, I know a lot of people view blogging in general as superficial, silly, or self-indulgent. And that’s cool. Opinions are like assho- well, you know the rest. We’re all entitled. I do wish more people would understand what goes into blogging, or running a successful blog, before they made such a statement or held firmly to the thought that I’m just a vain, self-important ninny who likes to babble to herself on the interwebs.

Blogging is hard. Food blogging especially. But there are cookies...

Workspace.

I get it. I’m a punk rock kid grown into a woman who really could care less about what anyone else thinks (both about her & otherwise), and I have a blog. I’m not a professional chef, nor am I a writer. I’m not winning any James Beard awards or Nobel Peace Prizes… at least not that I know of. I’m not curing cancer, or inventing anything new & exciting. I’m pretty much just an average, every day home cook & baker with (a lot of) stuff to say. But believe me when I tell you- this is harder than it looks, it’s like a full-time job in and of itself and it doesn’t pay THAT well. But regardless of that, I wouldn’t stop doing it for the world.

You see, I didn’t start this blog with the intention of becoming Dooce or the Pioneer Woman. I have nothing against Heather or Ree, they’re both very interesting ladies, and hell yes I’d like to make enough money to retire & work from home strictly on blogging or have my own Food Network series & such. But that doesn’t happen to everyone, obviously, and I’m not stupid enough to expect it. I’ve been in the blog-o-sphere long enough to know these things happen randomly & are definitely not the norm. I’m what you would call the “accidental blogger”, or the reluctant blogger. See, before this blog, I’d had blogs in the past, many years ago. I thought that part of my life was over. I hadn’t gone anywhere near HTML except to build websites for people who were paying me to do so. I was just enjoying getting down in the kitchen, feeling my way through this weird new world of eating what you create (they frown upon that when you’re in art school, unless you’re on acid… in which case you get sent to a drug counselor & a therapist & your art probably gets hung in the lobby). When I began posting my baked creations on MySpace (ugh, I know, but it was 2006!) & people told me to get a blog… I dragged my feet. I eventually did, on WordPress.com. And I really liked getting back into it, but let’s face it: four people were reading my blog. And I knew all four of them. Which was fine with me! I was just enjoying it for myself, having fun with it. When I started getting comments from people I didn’t know and getting way more hits than usual, that’s when I was shocked. That’s also when I ended up with a domain & a hosting plan, courtesy of Jay, who saw something in it that I didn’t.

I guess sometimes you’re just meant to do things. And I’m meant to blog.

Joy the Baker: chasing the light
In this photo from Joy The Baker’s Instagram, you see a prime example of “chasing the light” (which I’ll discuss further in a bit)

 

So, there it was. March of 2008, I had a real blog again. With real responsibilities like installing the blogging software (this is before there was an instant installation option when you purchased your hosting plan), importing my posts from WP.com, installing “plugins”, learning PHP stuff (I was used to CGI), using widgets, finding a template for my layout, then designing it into a nicer layout, and so on. I also had to worry about spam comments, which soon began to drive me utterly bananas, leading me to install not one, not two, but THREE spam filters. My first camera wasn’t the best, and the next one I got had a flash that could blind a herd of elephants. My iPhone was a godsend when that camera broke, but it wasn’t until I got my DSLR just last summer that things really started to shine. But not everyone really cares about the photography (seriously, I don’t get it either ’cause that’s my favorite part of most blogs).

Easy jammy 'sammy' cookies! Kind of a vanilla shortbread/sugar cookie hybrid, filled with jams.

Espresso helps…

 

But all of that is really irrelevant and no one out there reading this cares… unless they’re a fellow blogger. The point I’m trying to get across: blogging isn’t as easy as it appears.

For example: recently, hackers have been attacking WordPress blogs. Why? No idea. Just because they can, I guess. So GoDaddy‘s team started working overtime to prevent any damage, and because of that my site was down off and on for three days, and when I got access I had to change my password and then delete my ‘admin’ user account and create a whole new account, as well as install even more security plugins to detect/prevent malware and all that other evil stuff. This is after already going nuts to install numerous security programs last year after my friend Yoyo’s blog was hacked. If I didn’t do all this, you might have come here & gotten a virus or had a terrible attack on your computer because someone hacked my site. On top of all of that? Google’s changes to it’s image search has drastically reduced the number of hits to blogs & websites. Most blogs are experiencing anywhere from a 40% – 75% DECREASE in hits. This is because of a few things, mostly the fact that the image search now allows you to just view the image as it is instead of clicking through to the website it’s from. But also because of Google Panda and changes to the search algorithms. Lower hits – lower money from advertising. Now I personally don’t care much, I’m not in this to make a fortune. But that’s not to say the extra money doesn’t come in handy, both to counteract hosting costs & fund other things blog-related. It doesn’t mean I’m going to stop blogging- HELL NO. It’s just a small piece of the blogging pie (pun intended) that I’m attempting to explain the joys & downsides of.

Easy jammy 'sammy' cookies! Kind of a vanilla shortbread/sugar cookie hybrid, filled with jams.
… and Kraft paper helps make things look neat on your blog when your entire real life is in shambles.

It’s not all magic. There’s a lot of work that goes into this, and there are no elves or trained monkeys helping.

Another thing? The work that goes into preparing a decent blog post. Creating the recipe, writing it up, making it, hoping for good lighting by the time it’s done, possibly setting up a ridiculous “faux tableau” on the floor near a door or maybe even on a dresser, taking the photos, putting the photos on your computer/laptop, fishing out the decent ones, photo editing, photo re-editing, photo re-sizing, photo uploading, writing the blog post, re-writing the blog post to make it more interesting & less textbook, reading it & noticing grammar errors… you get the idea. That’s a lot of work. A LOT. If you’ve never done any of it, you can tell just by reading that; it sounds like a lot of work. It’s like being a photo editor, food stylist, and regular editor all at once. I happen to enjoy the photo editing & photo stuff- that’s all part of graphic design & my art background. I spend my time behind a laptop (on any given Adobe program) most of the day anyway. But still, don’t tell me it’s not work. It is. Essentially I, and most of my fellow bloggers, work on our blogs for free. Joy the Baker recently added part 2 to her original post about “Real-Talk Blog Tips” and that lays a lot of it out there for you non-bloggers in terms of what our concerns are & what kinda stuff we’re always thinking about. How we wake up early on days off to bake/cook & take good photos, and stay up late to write a clever blog post… for you.

So yes, it’s like working a second job, and for most of us it’s unpaid. But that’s all okay. Because there are cookies involved. Sometimes.

Easy jammy 'sammy' cookies! Kind of a vanilla shortbread/sugar cookie hybrid, filled with jams.

There’s a lot of heartache, stress, & bullshit involved. But I really do enjoy it. If I didn’t, I’d stop. Plus… the cookies do make it worthwhile, especially on a rough week.

So here are some really easy sandwich cookies that you can throw together at the last minute. You know, for when you need something to blog about uh, snack on.

EASY JAMMY “SAMMY” (SANDWICH) COOKIES (adapted from Martha)

Makes about 30 cookie sandwiches using a 2″ cutter, recipe can be halved

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup sifted all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • pinch teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • a variety of jams/jellies… or Nutella/Fluff/peanut butter… for filling

Directions:

  1. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Beat together butter and sugar with a mixer on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in egg and vanilla. Reduce speed to low, and gradually add flour mixture, beating until just incorporated. Remove from the mixer and and knead until a dough forms.
  2. Divide in half. Flatten each piece of dough into a disk, and wrap each in plastic wrap. Refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour and up to overnight. Bring to room temperature, about 10 minutes, before rolling.
  3. Preheat oven to 325 degrees with racks in top and lower thirds. Roll out each disk of dough between 2 sheets of lightly floured parchment to just under 1/4 inch thick, adding more flour as needed to keep dough from sticking. Cut out shapes, making sure you’ve got an even number, rerolling scraps once. Place cookies 1 inch apart on parchment-lined baking sheets.
  4. Bake until barely golden brown around edges, about 8 minutes for 1-inch cookies, 10 minutes for 1 1/2-inch cookies, and 12 minutes for 2-inch cookies, rotating halfway through. Let cookies cool completely on baking sheets set on wire racks.
  5. Spread (using an offset spatula) or pipe (using a pastry bag and a small plain tip) filling onto bottom side of half the cookies, and sandwich with remaining cookies, pressing gently. Repeat with all the cookies. Now turn on some Bad Religion, arrange the cookies on a plate or in some other cute display, take some photos of ‘em (find the good light!) and then edit the photos. Once you’re finished, then & only then you can eat.
  6. Cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature up to 1 week.

Easy jammy 'sammy' cookies! Kind of a vanilla shortbread/sugar cookie hybrid, filled with jams.

These cookies are very delicate, like shortbread, so be careful in the cooling/filling phases. It’s got a really delicate vanilla flavor that’s pretty adaptable to any filling, but can be customized as well. You can just dip half of each cookie into a chocolate coating, you can add a sprinkling of crystal sugar on top before baking, etc. I like them for sandwich cookies, because the texture isn’t chewy, it’s got a snap & a crunch that reminds me of Oreo’s or those vanilla sandwich cookies.

I used caramel apple jamchocolate plum jam & vanilla-strawberry jam to fill mine, but I won’t judge you if you choose to fill your cookie sandwiches with both Nutella and a delicious jam. Do yo’ thang. Fluff goes with anything, too. Strawberry jam + Fluff, cherry jam + Nutella, grape jelly + peanut butter, peanut butter + Fluff… whatevs. Marmalade, if it’s on the thick side, works too. As does lemon curd.

Here’s a little diagram breakdown of my jamminess:

Easy jammy 'sammy' cookies! Kind of a vanilla shortbread/sugar cookie hybrid, filled with a variey of jams- although Nutella, Fluff & peanut butter work too.

Have fun. Meanwhile, I’ve gotta go do some more blogging. See ya at the next post.

Comfort food.

I don’t know about you, but this time of year is a tad depressing for me. It’s gray, it’s cold, it’s either snowing or there’s freezing rain pelting the windows, the Christmas lights are either down already or coming down this week, and most people have tossed their poor little Christmas trees to the curb (not me, however). And at the curb is where they lay, getting splashed by the car tires of passersby sloshing through the puddles of melted snow or rain. Their once proud needles falling off, now surrounding them like the Liliputs surrounding Gulliver as he awakens on the beach. It’s a sad state of affairs. The next “holiday” isn’t until February 14th, and that leaves over one month of dark, cold, bleak winter days to trudge through. I don’t do resolutions, but if I did? Mine would be something like “Don’t hide under the covers until April,” ’cause I really need that reminder this time of year.

And all of that calls for comfort food: thick & creamy baked macaroni & cheese with toasted breadcrumb topping, deep dish pizza’s loaded with extra cheese, roast chicken/coq au vin, beef bourguignon, potatoes au gratin, potato & leek soup, steak & buttermilk mashed potatoes, matzoh ball soup, tomato soup with grilled cheese. Heavy, hot, wintery food that makes me feel better about getting up in the morning when it’s still dark out. I guess that means something different to everyone, though. Maybe your comfort food is ice cream. Maybe it’s lobster bisque. Maybe it’s Ritz crackers with Cheez-Whiz.

No judgement.

Because… there’s more than just one kind of comfort food. One person’s comfort food might be macaroni & cheese, but your comfort food might be a ham & cheese sandwich, because that’s what your mom used to pack in your lunchbox. Food evokes memories, sometimes good… sometimes bad. I stopped eating a certain kind of chicken when I was younger because I ate it during a bad case of the flu & it didn’t sit well. So from then on, I associated that chicken with that illness. Or, an example in the other direction: Chinese food from a certain place reminds me of my childhood, and my grandma who used to love shrimp with lobster sauce, and having my mom pick the onions, egg & mushrooms out of the house fried rice before I’d eat it. So it’s a positive memory for me, and that particular Chinese food restaurant always makes me feel happy.

On that note, a peanut butter & jelly sandwich is considered comforting for a lot of people, too. Just a simple little sandwich can take you back to being a kid, and having your mom make you lunch. It can make you feel safe & taken care of even on the worst of days. And what’s better than a sandwich?

A cupcake.

A peanut butter & jelly cupcake to help combat the winter blues.

You might be surprised at the origins of the classic kid’s favorite:

In the early 1900s, peanut butter was considered a delicacy that was only served in New York City‘s finest tearooms. The product was first paired with a diverse set of foods such as pimento, nasturtium, cheese, celery, watercress, and on toasted crackers.[3] In a Good Housekeeping article published in May 1896, a recipe “urged homemakers to use a meat grinder to make peanut butter and spread the result on bread.” In June of that same year, the culinary magazine Table Talk published a “peanut butter sandwich recipe.”[4] The first reference of peanut butter paired with jelly on bread was rumored to be published in the United States by Julia Davis Chandler in 1901.[5] By the late 1920s, this sandwich eventually moved down the class structure as the price of peanut butter declined. It became popular with children.[6] During World War II, it is said that both peanut butter and jelly were found on U.S. soldiers’ military ration list, as claimed by the Peanut Board.[7]

PEANUT BUTTER CUPCAKES (from Martha Stewart)

Makes 2 dozen cupcakes

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 6 ounces (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar
  • 2/3 cup natural, creamy peanut butter
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • grape or strawberry jelly (or the fruit jelly of your choice; either homemade or store bought)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Line muffin tin with paper cupcake liners. Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a medium bowl and set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the butter, peanut butter and sugar until smoothly blended and lightened in color, about 1 minute. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed during mixing. Mix in eggs. Mix the vanilla & sour cream together in a separate bowl & set aside.
  3. On low speed, add the flour mixture in 3 additions and the wet ingredients in 2 additions, beginning and ending with the flour mixture and mixing until the flour is incorporated and the batter looks smooth.
  4. Fill each liner about 3/4 full. Bake just until the tops feel firm, they are lightly browned and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 22 minutes. There will be cracks on the top. Cool cupcakes for 10 minutes in the pan on wire rack. Then remove from pan and allow to cool completely on rack.
  5. Once cooled, take a cupcake and fill the center with a bit of the grape jelly. There are two methods for this: one, cut out a piece of the center of the cupcake (with a round pastry tip or sharp knife) and replace it with a spoonful of jelly. Or, two, use a piping bag fitted with a small round tip filled with some jelly and poke it down into the center of the cupcake, then squeeze some out (not too much or your cupcake will “explode”). Repeat whichever method you choose for all the cupcakes. Then proceed to frost them.


PEANUT BUTTER BUTTERCREAM (from Martha Stewart)

Ingredients:

  • 2/3 cup creamy peanut butter (or chunky, if you prefer that, but piping the finished product will be harder)
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 – 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • Fine salt (optional)

Directions:

  1. Cream peanut butter and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on high speed.
  2. On low speed, mix in sugar until combined, then beat mixture on high speed until fluffy and smooth, about 3 minutes.
  3. Add salt to taste, if desired. Use immediately.

BEST PEANUT BUTTER FROSTING EVER.


No joke. I got more compliments on this frosting than any other I can think of in recent memory. And I have to say, while eating it out of the bowl, I did notice it was amazing. I added a bit of jelly to the tops of cupcakes, too, but that’s just because these cupcakes were on my mind. I just sprinkled the gold crystal sugar on the frosting too, to make them a bit prettier.

Some people like peanut butter & strawberry jelly, so feel free to use that, too, or whatever kind of jelly you like. You can use homemade jelly & I’m sure you can use homemade peanut butter as well; but homemade peanut butter might be too “thin” for the batter & especially for the frosting, so just be aware that the texture difference between traditional store-bought & homemade might change the game a bit. However, an experienced baker should be able to accommodate any issues there.

Rose petal hibiscus tea jelly.

“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” ― C.S. Lewis

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Is that not the prettiest jelly you’ve ever seen?

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It really is. And it’s not just because I took these photos with a magical new addition to my life, although yeah, this camera takes insane photos. It’s because this jelly really is the prettiest jelly ever.

I love tea. I always have. In an Irish family, tea is basically a staple… you can’t escape it. Yes, I love coffee too, but I definitely own more varieties of tea than coffee. Tea is comforting for me. Tea is childhood illness, when my grandmother would make me a cup when I was home sick from school & my mom was at work, holding her hand to my forehead to see if I was “hot.” Tea is when I had a bad day as a teenager, and my mom would make me a cup before bed & tell me the day is over and tomorrow is a new start. Tea is family. Coffee is a jolt to get me going, whereas tea is a warm hug to settle me down.

I made a super crazy good tea jelly last summer, and it was such a massive hit that all four jars disappeared. One I sent to Lyns, and the other three just seemingly vaporized. I know I used it for a few things, and I remember having it on scones and English muffins, but I definitely don’t remember all the jars being used up. Hmm. But nonetheless they were, and now they’re seemingly gone, so it was time to make some more. I really liked the tea I used last year, but I wanted something different this year. I was still in a summer mood at the time, and it was so hot out I didn’t want to make anything too heavy or wintery, and a lot of my loose teas remind me of fall & winter. I wanted to avoid that completely- I’m more than a little annoyed that the Back To School stuff has been in stores since before my birthday and that people are trying to sell me sweaters. It’s still summer, dammit! I’ve also been reading a lot of my vintage cookbooks, or rather my reprints of vintage cookbooks, such as The Virginia House-Wife, The American Frugal Housewife & Civil War Recipes; and for some reason they all made me think of things like rose or lavender-based jellies and jams. Flowery edible things always remind me of the Colonial times or Victorian times. Rosewater was often used back then in recipes in place of vanilla extract, which was very expensive. Although it’s still used widely today, especially in Indian & Middle Eastern cuisine, most people nowadays use it as part of their toilette. Rosewater is great for your skin- it absorbs excess oil so it makes a great toner.

So as a kind of experiment, I decided to make a small jar of jelly using some flower-based tea & rose petals.

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I decided to use the last four Hibiscus tea bags from Davidson’s that I had left to make some rose petal hibiscus tea jelly. Why add actual rose petals? ‘Cause I can, really.

ROSE PETAL HIBISCUS TEA JELLY

Makes about 1 8-oz. jar with some overflow

Ingredients:

  • 4 Davidson’s Tulsi Hibiscus tea bags
  • 1 cup plus two tablespoons water
  • 1 1/2 cups plus two tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon Certo liquid pectin (or 1/3 cup apple pectin)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh strained lemon juice
  • 4-6 large unblemished rose petals (from roses not chemically treated)

Directions:

  1. Sterilize and keep warm two 8-oz. jars & one 4-oz. jar (for overflow, just in case). Place the lids in a bowl of hot water and set aside.
  2. In a bowl of water, delicately swirl the rose petals to remove any bugs or excess dirt. Remove gently and drain on paper towels. Add the tea bags to the 1 3/4 cups water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a rolling boil, then remove from the heat, add the rose petals, and let steep for 5-6 minutes. Drain and toss the tea bags & petals (unless you want to add the petals to the jars; they’ll float but you can still add them if you like).
  3. Add the pectin, lemon juice and sugar to the tea. Bring to a boil and cook over high heat until it reaches 220° F on a candy thermometer, or passes the freezer plate test, about 25-30 minutes.
  4. Pour into prepared jars, leaving 1/4″ headspace. Wipe rims and place lids & bands, turning only to fingertip tight.
  5. Process in a waterbath canner for 5 minutes. Remove onto a clean tea towel and do not disturb for a day. Check seal. Use any that aren’t sealed immediately.

The tea is slightly rosy itself. But my rose petals were a red color, so the jelly was infused with a slightly more red color than the tea would normally have (and the petals then turned a pale pinkish color themselves, as if all their color was leeched out into the jelly). If you don’t want to use the petals, you don’t have to. It just gives a really subtle rosy flavor. A drop of rosewater in the tea before cooking would work too, but it wouldn’t be as subtle. If you’ve got hibiscus, then by all means- use hibiscus petals! Like I said, the petals float to the top, so when you open the jelly; you’ll see them at the surface. You can eat them, scrape them off and toss them, or save them.

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This is a jelly with a slightly looser set. It shakes & jiggles just like jelly is supposed to, and it holds it’s shape well, yet softly. I hate that store-bought jelly is so over-firm. I think jelly should be jiggly, like jello. I think it’s better to be safe than sorry, that’s why I recommend in the recipe that you sterilize two 8-oz. jars and a 4-oz. jar. You’ll probably have a little overflow, but you might have more than just a little. ‘Cause see, depending on what kind of pot you use, what kind of oven you have, etc. you might end up with more than just one 8-oz. jar (or maybe a little less!)… so better to be safe, no? And besides, what’s the problem with ending up with more jelly? None as far as I can tell.

This isn’t really a jelly for the casual jelly-lover. It’s a very distinctive, unique flavor and it’s not for everyone. That said… if you love hibiscus tea, you’ll love this.

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And don’t worry- if your jelly doesn’t set, you can still use it! It’d be wonderful as a syrup added to iced tea, a vodka or gin cocktail, or sparkling water. Same goes for those petals you save. Plop them in some sparkling water or lemonade, too. It’s very Victorian. And if you love tea, yet you’ve never tried hibiscus flower tea, I suggest you try some. It’s delicious- especially Davidson’s.

Canning for dummies.

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No, I don’t think you’re all dummies.

But I realize that for a lot of my readers, this is the closest they’ll get to a canning blog. Most of you are here for the cupcakes or baked goods, maybe even the macaroni & cheese or pizza, but that doesn’t mean you can’t expand your repertoire. Maybe you want to, but you just don’t know where to go to find info. Maybe you, too, were in a Williams-Sonoma store lately and saw those displays I photographed (below) and thought, “Hey… I’d really like to try it. But I don’t know how.” So I figured I’d do a kind of canning-summary post for newbies. Granted, I’m far FAR from being a pro. I am not a Master Preserver, I am not perfect and I sure as hell don’t know everything. But I’m not a professional baker, either, and that didn’t stop me from making some frosting tutorials a couple of years back. So I thought I’d do a brief outline of what you’ll need, what you’ll want, and some basics you’ll need to know before you get started with waterbath canning.*

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Canning is not hard. Canning is not something you can only do if you have a lot of chemistry knowledge. Canning is a lot of fun, and if you do it right, it can save you money too. Although I do it just for fun, if you’re serious about it, you can put up just about anything & feed your family for an entire season using it all. However… it’s serious too. If you aren’t clean enough, and your jars aren’t sanitized enough, and you don’t wash your produce or follow safety procedures, you can expose yourself and anyone who eats what you make to things like botulism, listeria, e. coli or some very nasty yeasts, to name a few. But it’s not dangerous, it’s not scary, and it’s not something that should scare you. Why should you start canning? Well, there are tons of reasons. Some people, particularly those who eat only locally or sustainably, like to create their own products from local organic produce. People who live on farms or grow their own produce do it to avoid wasting the product & to sustain their families through the winter, just like in old times. Others still do it because they like to create unique “designer” jams or jellies or pickles… like me. Sure, you can probably buy a lemon-orange whiskey marmalade somewhere, at some gourmet shop most likely, but you’ll be paying far more for one small jar than I did per 4 pints. I made an amazing version of Brooklyn Brine Co’s Hop Pickles for way less than the $15.00 a jar they sell it for. And not only that, but food made from scratch just tastes better, and canning is no exception. No preservatives, no dye, no high fructose corn syrup. Just real ingredients. And price wise, if you’re buying the fruit or vegetables from a farmer’s market when it’s in season and not paying exorbitant prices, you’re still coming out on top price-wise vs. supermarket canned goods. I did the math for mint jelly last summer, but it’s easy enough to figure out any type of canned goods when you’ve got all the prices at hand.

I’m known as sort of a baking rebel, but when it comes to canning, DO NOT BE A REBEL. You can certainly come up with your own recipes, but they have to be acidic enough to be safe. Do your research first. Don’t play around with the health & safety of yourself and others. True, you never hear of people dying from improperly home-canned items. It’s pretty rare. But do you want to be that one asshole that makes it on the nightly news because of your jam?

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Like I said above, this list of basics focuses on waterbath canning, NOT pressure canning* and not freezer jams.** Waterbath canning is the process most commonly used for high-acid foods: pickles, jams, jellies, preserves, fruit butters, conserves & marmalades. And I quote:

High acid foods are processed in a boiling-water canner. The heat is transferred to the product by the boiling water which completely surrounds the jar and two-piece cap. A temperature of 100° C (212° F) is reached and it must be maintained for the time specified. Always follow a modern recipe with proven and tested processing times.

This method is adequate to kill molds, yeasts, enzymes and some bacteria. This method never reaches the super-high temperatures needed to kill certain bacterial spores and their toxins, which can produce botulism, therefore, this method cannot be used for processing low-acid foods. See more about the Basic Steps for this method, or learn more about pressure canning and low acid foods.

Water bath canners are widely available. You can use any big pot, however, if it is deep enough for the water to cover the tops of jars by several inches. Allow 5 to 10cm (2 to 4 inches) above jar tops for brisk boiling. The canner must have a tight-fitting lid and a wire or wooden rack. The jars must be held off the bottom so the heat can penetrate properly. The jars are divided so they will not bump into each other or tip over in the boiling water during processing.

To ensure uniform processing of all jars with an electric range, the canner should be no more than four inches wider in diameter than the element on which it is heated. However for flat top stoves, canners should be no more than 2 inches wider than the diameter of the element.

- missvickie.com

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First off, you need certain supplies.  Like jars. You must use canning-safe jars- not old spaghetti sauce or applesauce jars (save those for refrigerator pickles & salsa). Ball® & Kerr® are the two most popular brands. Both are made in the U.S.A. and are fairly inexpensive. They’re both owned by Jarden Brands and the lids and bands are interchangeable. These jars are both the easiest to use and the easiest to find; you can get them at some Target stores, Ace Hardware, Walmart, and other hardware and home goods stores as well as the usual online ordering.

They come in the following shapes/sizes:

Unless you’re going to be doing some serious canning and/or you’re planning on making your own juice, or canning whole fruits, you probably won’t need a half gallon or quart jar. I have quarts for making sun tea or storing beans, grains, rice, etc. However they’re also really good for making pickles. If you eat a lot of pickles or want to make whole pickles (not sliced) then a quart jar is perfect. If you want to just make regular supermarket size jars of pickles, a pint jar will do. If you’re going to be focused more on jams or jellies, I’d recommend the 8 – or 4- ounce jars. All the jars come with lids & bands, but if you end up reusing the jars, you’ll need to buy more lids as they’re only made for one time use. The bands can be reused as long as they’re not rusted or crusty or they don’t impede with the sealing process.

(EDIT 9.7.12: Thanks to Susan Lutz at Zester Daily, there’s a new rundown of what jars are good for what products. Check it out!)

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Walmart sells other jars as well, under the Golden Harvest name, the Alltrista1 name and the Mainstays name. Having never used any of them but Golden Harvest, I can’t speak of them from experience. However I do have a few quart Golden Harvest jars and they work just fine (I used Ball® brand lids/bands, I don’t trust the lids that come with them for canning). Quattro Stagioni is yet another canning jar option. They use a one-piece lid that can only be used one time for canning. I’ve never used this brand myself, but the jars are very attractive and there is something to be said for the one-piece lid. HOWEVER, they’re a bit expensive (around $3.95 per jar at the Container Store). Another jar option is Weck. Weck is a German company that makes fancier canning jars at higher prices. They’re beautiful looking, beautifully made, come in a variety of sizes and don’t use rings or bands like the Ball®/Kerr® jars do. They instead use a rubber ring, or gasket type thing, and a glass lid. Because these jar options are a bit trickier to use and also pricier, I’d recommend starting out with Ball® or Kerr®. And frankly in comparison, they’re just made to a better standard of quality than the Golden Harvest/Alltrista1/Mainstays jars, as far as I’m concerned. The Weck jars are also made very well, but far more expensive. For example, Weck is priced at $17.75 for six 19.6-ounce jars, whereas Ball is $12.99 for twelve 24-ounce jars.

And before I continue I have to say this: DO NOT USE VINTAGE OR SECONDHAND JARS FOR CANNING. For decoration, or storage, or even fridge pickles if you must… but never for canning. Those adorable blue vintage jars you bought at the thrift store? Keep them for their looks. Use brand new (or at least ones bought fairly recently, i.e. modern) jars. The old model jars are not recommended for safe canning any more, due to numerous reasons. Also, never use a jar with any kind of chips or cracks in it. It seems obvious, but you never know.

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Second, you’ll need equipment to process the jars safely. I use a large stainless steel lobster pot and a cheapo plastic rack for processing my jars. There are tons of options here, from canning kits that include everything from the canning pot, a metal rack & jar lifter tongs to the simpler kits that just include a plastic canning rack and an instruction booklet that rely on you to get your own pot, tongs, etc. Then there’s the “elite” canning kit. I highly recommend you get a kit, regardless of what kind it is. It’s cheaper than buying things individually and there are certain things you just NEED. Like..

  1. A canning pot – this is just a necessity. Whether you buy a dedicated “canning pot” or use a very large pasta pot or lobster pot, if you’re canning you’re going to 100% need a pot to process them in. Ideally, when filled with water, there should be 1-2″ of it over the tops of your jars. And as I quoted above: To ensure uniform processing of all jars with an electric range, the canner should be no more than four inches wider in diameter than the element on which it is heated. However for flat top stoves, canners should be no more than 2 inches wider than the diameter of the element. This pot also needs a lid that fits.
  2. A large saucepan – for cooking the jellies, jams and brines. Ideally, it should be at least three times as deep as the mixture you’re cooking, so we’re talking about a fairly large pot. This is especially important for jams and jellies which bubble up a LOT and can boil over, which is obviously dangerous. For brine, unless you’re doing very large batches, a medium (or even small) saucepan will do.
  3. A canning rack – this is another absolutely necessity. The jars that are being processed cannot touch the bottom of your pot, they must be held off of it. Now, a lot of people just use some rolled up dish towels, and some people tie together canning rings to make a little homemade rack. Still others opt for the stainless steel racks, and like I said, I have a simple, small green plastic one that processes roughly four jars at a time. Which is great for me since I do small-batch canning. Whatever works for you.
  4. Jar lifter – the first time you can, you’ll think you won’t need this. Then you’ll either burn your hands or drop a hot jar using an oven mitt and you’ll see the error of your ways. So just buy one now.
  5. Jar funnel – Not an absolutely necessity, but it certainly makes things a hell of a lot easier. A jar funnel fits perfectly in the rims of your jars, filling them with boiling hot jam/jelly or pickle brine without spilling it all over.
  6. Tea towels or linen dish towels – this is something that you’ll need for after you remove the jars from the boiling water. The hot jars shouldn’t touch a cold countertop, particularly if you have a granite or stone counter. So you fold up one or two very light, not textured linen towels for them to sit on. It absorbs the temperature and it’s soft. If the hot jars touch a cold counter, they could crack or shatter immediately. Now, I’ve never had this happen, and I’ve sometimes been a bit rushed or lazy (I hate to admit), but it can and it does… so please be aware. Don’t take the chance. I stock up on these linen towels at Ikea every time I go. For around $.79 cents each, they’re worth their weight in gold. I use them for not just canning, but for everything! When they get too grungy, I toss ‘em. (Side note: I barely use paper towels anymore!)
  7. Jelly bag – if you’re going to venture into jellies (and by that I mean fruit jellies, not things like wine jelly or tea jelly), you’re going to need a jelly bag. You can buy a jelly bag contraption, or you can rig one up using cheesecloth/jelly bags and either your faucet (if it’s a gooseneck) or something else. But you’ll definitely need it- especially if you want clear jelly.
  8. Commercial pectin or homemade apple pectin – Commercial pectin comes in many different kinds. There’s liquid pectin (ex: Certo), powdered pectin (ex: Ball Flex batch/ Small batch and Sure-Jell) and powdered pectin that uses calcium water to gel (Pomona’s). Each pectin needs a different amount of sugar & acid to set, and they are NOT interchangeable. Pomona’s Universal Pectin can be used with full sugar jams & jellies and also with low-sugar or even NO sugar. Ball also makes a low-sugar powdered pectin. All pectin is made from natural fruit pectin, so they aren’t in any way “fake” at all, but still, if you choose to go au naturel & use something homemade, there are ways of making your own pectin. I have a recipe for homemade apple pectin here. There are tons of different kinds, and they all work very well. I’ve used every single one at one point or another and I’ve never had an issue. For clear jelly, I like liquid Certo. For jams I don’t mind using a powdered one, usually Sure-Jell. But I’ve used Pomona’s too, and it wasn’t as complicated as it seemed. All in all, it’s about personal preference. Try them all & see which works for you.
  9. Candy thermometer – if you’re making jelly, this is another requirement. They can be purchased in any supermarket, Bed Bath & Beyond store, online or at any housewares store for pretty cheap. And remember, if you buy a glass one, they’re delicate and they retain the heat like crazy. I dropped mine after trying to grab it while it was still hot when I was making champagne jelly last New Year’s and ended up with no thermometer & shards of glass all over the damn floor. That is something you do NOT want to happen to you, it really ruins the mood of the jelly-making.
  10. Pickling salt – this isn’t a necessity, meaning you can still pickle with Iodized salt or un-Iodized salt. But most recipes will probably call for pickling salt. Basically, it’s just a finer grain of salt that has no Iodine mixed in it, so you can use regular un-Iodized salt if you like. It works just fine and that’s mostly what I use. Iodized salt might make your brine cloudy. It most likely won’t affect the taste or quality, but it won’t look as nice.
  11. Vinegar – the most basic and obvious of all, along with salt. You need this for pickles; be they “fridge” pickles (or quick pickles) or actual “canned” pickles. The type might vary. For starters, get a gallon of white vinegar, and a smaller bottle of apple cider vinegar, both MUST BE 5% acidity. After that, it’s basically all a matter of taste. You might want to try an Asian-inspired pickle and use rice wine vinegar. You might want a red wine vinegar pickle. Those are all just fine. But the most basic vinegars you’ll need are white and apple cider. And any recipe that is canned using a waterbath canner must use a vinegar with 5% acidity. No less. Any vinegars less than 5% can be used for fridge pickles, but not shelf-stable pickles.
  12. Lemon juice – I always have at least one bottle of lemon juice in my fridge. You need it for providing the acid in a lot of jam or jelly recipes. Some people prefer to use only fresh lemon juice, but I like to use the bottled stuff for most things. Some exceptions include lemon curd & lemon jellies.

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The rest of the stuff: sugar, spices, etc., is all dependent on the recipe/pectin you decide to use. And what is pectin, exactly?

Pectin is a naturally-occurring thickening agent that is most often used by adding it to jams, jellies and similar products to help them gel and thicken. Pectin creates a thick, clear set when it gels. It is a carbohydrate (a polysaccharide) found in and around the cell walls of plants, and helps to bind those cells together. All fruit has pectin in it, but the amount varies widely. Apples and oranges contain the most pectin, and the pectin from both fruits is used commercially to thicken many different types of products. Pectin generally needs a high sugar content and some acid, such as citric acid, to activate, and some commercially available pectins include citric acid as an ingredient to help ensure that consumers get their desired result when working with their products.  Pectin can be bought at the grocery store in both powder and liquid forms, and it can also be introduced to a recipe by adding fruit that has a high natural pectin content, such as apples or plums.

Gelatin and pectin both produce clear gels with a high sheen, but the products are not the same. Pectin is a water-soluble fiber, while gelatin is a protein derived from animals. Pectin is used almost exclusively in high-sugar products, like jams. Gelatin, on the other hand, is used in a much wider variety of foods, including mousses, marshmallows and frostings because gelatin sets in a cool environment and does not require that specific ingredients be included to activate it.

- Baking Bites

Like I said, what kind of pectin you use: homemade, commercial, liquid, powdered, etc., influences how much sugar (or what kind of “sweetener”) that you’ll be needing, which is in turn all dependent on either your dietary needs/wants or the recipe you’re using. Which brings me to the Three R’s.

When it comes to The Three R’s: research, resources and recipes (three very important things), you have to know where to go. There are a number of amazing canning blogs and websites out there jam-packed (pun intended) with amazing information. But how do you find them? Well, right here! These are seven of my favorite and most trusted sites when it comes to preserving (and some of them have other stuff, too, like cooking or grilling). The first is an official website for the USDA, the second one is a website that’s instructional on all the basic canning steps & info (and has information on where you can pick your own veggies & fruits) and the third is a similar site, and the fourth one is a community of canners/preservers all sharing their knowledge. However, the last four are user-friendly blogs. Bookmark them. Now.

You’ll also need a few books. Websites are great, yes, and there are tons of them that can help you with questions you have. But a book will always be there for reference. I recommend the following books: The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving by Judy Kingry & Lauren Devine, Better Homes & Gardens You Can Can, We Sure Can! by Sarah B. Hood, and Canning For a New Generation by Liana Krissoff. The first two are basic guides, with the most commonly used and requested recipes for jams, jellies, pickles, chutneys & more, along with detailed drawings & explanations as to why certain procedures are done, why certain things are not waterbath-canner safe, etc. The second two books are filled with such things as homemade pectin recipes and recipes for more unusual or unique jams, jellies & pickles. Altogether they’re a compact yet excellent little collection of canning books that cover everything you need to know, from the very basic to the more exotic.

In my humble opinion, pickles are the easiest to make. I’d definitely start with pickles, either pickled cucumbers or pickled green beans (“Dilly beans”; shown in the top photo) or pickled vegetables like Giardiniera. Then I’d say jams would be the next easiest, specifically blueberry, raspberry or strawberry jam. Blackberry too, but the fact that you might want to use a food mill to get rid of the seeds makes it a bit more tedious than the others (I never ever do that, by the way). None of them require much work, though, not even any added commercial pectin. Next easiest? I’d say marmalade; either orange, lemon or a combination of the two. It’s a longer process then jam but it, too, doesn’t require added pectin. Some people have a difficult time getting it to set, but I personally never have, and my whole philosophy is “nothing ventured, nothing gained.” You never know until you try, right? And then last, but not least, jelly. Jelly is the hardest because it requires added pectin, and also it requires a candy thermometer and a very specific degree that it has to be cooked at before it will set. Now, technically speaking, all jam & marmalade has to be cooked to that degree, or “setting point” as well, but it’s easier to “see” when jams/marmalades/preserves are at the setting point. Jelly is a bit harder since it stays mostly liquid until it cools. Not only that, but you need patience and even then it can be tricky. It’s not something to be scared of, but to me it’s the most difficult of all the waterbath canned products.

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Canning, like baking or cooking, is fun. But it’s also work. It’s an art and a science. It’s important, just as in baking, to understand the different chemistry that makes things work the way they do before attempting to do it. If you don’t understand why you need baking powder & salt, then you shouldn’t bake; or at least you shouldn’t consider yourself a “baker.” And if you don’t understand why you need lemon juice to make your commercial pectin work, then you shouldn’t be canning. You don’t need to be a master chemist or science major, you don’t need to have a pH kit or massive knowledge of the acidity of every fruit or vegetable on the face of the earth. All you need is curiosity, and the basic knowledge of why you have to do certain things to make it work. At the very least, you should be open to learning the reasons why things are the way they are. Once you’ve got that- you’re on your way.

The acidity level, or pH, of foods determines whether they should be processed in a boiling water canner or pressure canner. The lower the pH, the more acidic the food.

Acidic foods have pH values below 4.6. These foods include pickles, most fruits, and jams and jellies made from fruit. (In pickling, the acid level is increased by adding lemon juice, citric acid, or vinegar.) Acidic foods contain enough acidity either to stop the growth of botulinum bacteria or destroy the bacteria more rapidly when heated. Acidic foods may be safely canned in a boiling water canner.

Low-acid foods include red meats, seafood, poultry, milk, all fresh vegetables and some tomatoes.  Low-acid foods have pH values higher than 4.6. They do not contain enough acid to prevent the growth of botulinum bacteria. These foods are processed at temperatures of 240 degrees F to 250 degrees F, attainable with pressure canners operated at 10 to 15 pounds per square inch (psi) of pressure. The exact time depends on the kind of food being canned, the way it is packed in jars, and the size of jars.

Although tomatoes used to be considered an acidic food, some are now known to have pH values slightly above 4.6, which means they are low acid. To safely can them as acidic foods in a boiling water canner, you must add lemon juice or citric acid.

Pressure canning is the only canning method recommended for low-acid foods like meat, poultry, seafood and vegetables.

Clostridium botulinum, the bacterium that causes botulism food poisoning, is destroyed in low-acid foods when they are processed at the correct time and temperature in pressure canners. Canning low acid foods in boiling-water canners is absolutely unsafe because the botulinum bacteria can survive this process. If Clostridium botulinum bacteria survive and grow inside a sealed jar of food, they can produce a deadly toxin. Just a tiny taste of food containing this toxin can be fatal.

- missvickie.com

Before I wrap this up, I’m going to really quickly cover refrigerator pickles. It’s not technically “canning” per se, but if you’re unsure/scared about starting the real canning process, you could try making some “quick pickles” or fridge pickles & see how you like it. The upside for most people to fridge pickles, aside from the fact that they’re super quick to make, is that it requires no canning pot, no canning jars/lids, no jar lifter, and no canning knowledge whatsoever. You can use any clean, food-safe glass jar that you want; from a clean spaghetti sauce jar, to a mayonnaise jar, to an applesauce jar, even a pickle jar. Or, a regular old canning jar! Anything. And you can “pickle” anything you want this way. You can make regular cucumber pickles, pickled green beans, pickled cauliflower, pickled okra, Vietnamese pickles, pickled carrots, pickled onions… the list goes on. The downside? Not shelf-stable, meaning they have to be stored in the fridge at all times. Also, they should be thrown out after 6 months in there, tops. Confession: I have some in my fridge for longer that are just fine, but I’m a loner Dottie… a rebel.

All you do is clean and chop or cut up your veggies, pack them into a jar, add your spices or herbs of choice, heat up some brine (usually a combination of vinegar/salt/water but sometimes there’s no vinegar, as in the Kosher Dill’s I list below) and then pour the brine over the veggies. Close the lid (not too tight!) and put them in the refrigerator. That’s all.

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Just like canned pickles, you can make fridge pickles with fresh dill and/or herbs, or you can use dill seed and/or dried herbs & seeds, as you can see above. I have a few recipes for fridge pickles up on the blog, one of which is taken from Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking‘s basic fridge pickle recipe, & I’m going to list them below. I encourage you to give it a shot, it’s very easy and it’ll give you a taste of what canning pickles is like without actually having to can them.

For preserving summer produce without canning at all, visit this page at The Kitchn. a complete list of the jams/jellies/preserves/pickles I have posted, see the recipe index. Or just search the categories, below. Either way- go forth & can! That way, little brunches & lunches like this can be an every day occurrence.

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P.S. Do you have any questions? Leave them in the comments, and I’ll do my best to answer them, or refer you somewhere else. And did I forget anything? Did I leave something out? Is there a book or website you think people should know about? Add it in the comments! All input, big or small, is graciously & gratefully accepted.

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*None of this references pressure canning, which is primarily used for low-acid foods (potatoes, soups, meats, etc). If you’re interested in that, please visit this page.

** For more freezer jam information, please visit this page.