Because we can, can, can

It's that time again - the posting of the Daring Cooks' challenge this month. This challenge was way cool for me, since it was really what joining the Daring Cooks roster was all about - trying techniques and/or skills that made me sort of nervous, but turns out are completely accessible.

The September 2010 Daring Cooks’ challenge was hosted by John of Eat4Fun. John chose to challenge The Daring Cooks to learn about food preservation, mainly in the form of canning and freezing. He challenged everyone to make a recipe and preserve it. John’s source for food preservation information was from The National Center for Home Food Preservation.

John posted a couple of recipes to attempt and encouraged us to learn more about canning, particularly about safety and guidelines to make sure you don't can any of those pesky botulinum toxins (because we want to eat the preserves, not inject them into our foreheads). I learned that the preserves need to be rather acidic to be safely preserved and prevent bacteria formation, which is why many jams and jellies have an element of citric acid added. I also learned about boiling the Mason jars to sterilize them, sealing them, and boiling them some more until they were vacuum packed, then testing them by lifting from the lid - I also learned about the 'pop' or 'ping' that's supposed to happen when they seal, but I never actually experienced the magical sound.

It's funny how much controversy and drama exists in the canning world! People can get quite passionate over old versus new jars, whether pumpkin can be safely preserved, and how important it is not to post recipes with old techniques on the blogosphere so that the newbies won't accidentally can incorrectly.

I tried a bunch of different recipes, all from trusted sites like the Ball website, and had a great time 'putting up' small quantities of several varieties of produce. For the challenge, John encouraged us neophytes to try one of 3 recipes - apple butter, bruschetta in a can, or roasted tomatoes (frozen, since there's oil in the recipe and it doesn't preserve well). I opted for apple butter and really wanted to attempt something with roasted red peppers and, native Texan that I am, some jars of salsa (Pace picante style - none of that stuff from New York City! Get a rope...).

Joe is a pickle addict, so of course there were some very special pickles just for him. Not being a pickle eater myself, I have learned from him that nothing beats a Claussen dill pickle. I searched for Claussen-alike recipes and discovered that the only way to keep the pickles nice and crispy is not to cook them, which means they have to be refrigerated and can't be stored on shelves at room temperature. It also takes 3-4 weeks for them to properly pickle. Our jars are sitting in the fridge right now, waiting, waiting, waiting to be devoured. The plan is to crack open a jar (probably easiest to just unscrew the lid) when we return from vacation in early October. It gives Joe a reason to return after 2 weeks in Spain. :)

So, without further ado, here are the recipes I used:

adapted in what I do believe was a safe way from a tested recipe

5 cups tomatoes (peeled, cored, and chopped)
3 cups chili peppers (seeded and chopped)
2 cups chopped onions
1/2 cup vinegar (5 percent) or lemon juice [I used lime juice]
1 Tbsp cilantro (chopped)
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp oregano
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Yield: 4 pint jars

Wash and rinse half-pint or pint canning jars; keep hot until ready to fill. Prepare lids and screw bands according to manufacturer’s directions.

Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan and heat, stirring frequently, until mixture boils. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Ladle hot mixture into clean, hot pint jars, leaving ½ inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace if needed. Wipe rims of jars with a dampened, clean paper towel; apply two-piece metal canning lids. Process in a boiling water canner 10 minutes.  Let cool, undisturbed, 12 to 24 hours and check for seals.

5 pounds apples (washed, peeled and cored) [I used Gala, I think. Or Red Delicious.]
1 cup apple cider
½ cup granulated sucralose (or, if you don't want 'reduced sugar' then honey or agave nectar - I used agave nectar)
1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon ground allspice

Yield: 3 pint jars.

Wash and rinse half-pint or pint canning jars; keep hot until ready to fill. Prepare lids and screw bands according to manufacturer’s directions.

Cut apples into quarters or eighths. Combine unpeeled apples and cider in 8-quart saucepan. Cook slowly and stir occasionally to prevent sticking. Cook until apples are very soft (falling apart).

Mash the apples with a potato masher (or an immersion blender, as I did)

Combine pulp with sweetener of choice and spices in an 8-quart saucepan. Simmer over low heat, stirring frequently.

To test for doneness, spoon a small quantity onto a clean plate; when the butter mounds on the plate without liquid separating around the edge of the butter, it is ready for processing. Another way to test for doneness is to remove a spoonful of the cooked butter on a spoon and hold it away from steam for 2 minutes. It is done if the butter remains mounded on the spoon.

Fill hot apple butter into clean hot jars, leaving ¼-inch headspace. Wipe jar rims with a clean, dampened paper towel and adjust two-piece metal lids and bands.

Process in a boiling water canner 15 minutes (at 0-1000ft of altitude - and we're in Houston, which is, what, 0 feet of altitude?). Let cool, undisturbed, 12 to 24 hours and check for seals.

Roasted red pepper spread
from Ball

6 lb red bell peppers (about 14 medium)
1 lb Italian plum tomatoes (about 5 medium)
2 cloves garlic, unpeeled
1 small white onion
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh basil
1 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt

Yield: about 5 half pint jars

Roast red peppers, tomatoes, garlic and onion under a broiler or on a grill at 425°F, turning to roast all sides, until tomatoes and peppers are blistered, blackened and softened and garlic and onion are blackened in spots. Remove from heat.

Place pepper and tomatoes in paper bags, secure opening and let cool about 15 minutes. Allow garlic and onion to cool. Peel garlic and onion. Finely chop garlic. Set aside. Finely chop onion, measuring 1/4 cup. Set aside. Peel and seed peppers and tomatoes. Place peppers and tomatoes in a food processor or blender, working in batches, and process until smooth.

Prepare boiling water canner. Heat jars and lids in simmering water until ready for use. Do not boil. Set bands aside.

Combine pepper and tomato puree, garlic, onion, vinegar, basil, sugar and salt in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until mixture thickens and mounds on a spoon, about 20 minutes.
Ladle hot spread into hot jars leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Wipe rim. Center hot lid on jar. Apply band and adjust until fit is fingertip tight.

Process in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes, adjusting for altitude. Remove jars and cool. Let cool, undisturbed, 12 to 24 hours and check for seals.

Claussen-style refrigerator dill pickles
found via Google search here

1 quart water
2 Tbsp kosher salt
2 Tbsp vinegar
2 Tbsp sugar
1 heaping Tbsp pickling spice
Bunch of dill
5+ cloves garlic
Canning pickles, quartered into spears (2-3 large pickles per quart jar)

Makes 1 quart. If canning more than 1 quart, increase quantities proportionally.

Heat water, salt, vinegar and sugar. Sterilize jars and put 1 heaping tablespoon of pickling spices in each jar with 3-5 cloves of garlic or more and a good bunch of fresh dill. Pack the jars with dill pickles and pour your cool brine into the jar, filling up to the top and making sure all the pickles are covered. Close the jars and put them in the fridge for at least 3-4 weeks and up to 6 months.

I'm so excited to learn a new (to me) technique for food preparation and storage this month. I remember Mom making dewberry jam when I was a kid, and I'm already looking forward to dewberry season next year so I can try my hand at preserves. I can only imagine how much more I would have done with those 25 pounds of Fredericksburg peaches had I considered myself a canner, no matter how amateur - I'm very good at following recipe directions. Oh brave new world...


  1. Yum, pickles. Good to know the trick to extra-crisp yummy ones. Thanks for sharing your research, and the canned items look beautiful!


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