Sealing and Storing the Flavors of the Season

Putting up preserves stretches summer's bounty to winter's dining table

There's something marvelous about canning - capturing the flavors of the season to enjoy later.

"Preserving at home is a natural outgrowth of America's renewed passion for home favorites, less complicated dishes, and quality, high quality, at any cost," California jam-maker Edon Waycott writes in her recent book "Preserving the Taste." Hearst Books, 1993.

That said, you'd better like whatever it is you're canning - you may be eating it for years. You can send it to relatives, foist it off on co-workers, but chances are, there will still be rows of Mason jars staring at you whenever you peek in the pantry.

My family discovered canning when we moved to Massachusetts and bought a house with two apple trees in the front yard. One bumper crop later and we had exhausted recipes for apple pie, baked apples, apple cake, apple betty, and apple pancakes. And still there were apples - in buckets, barrels, and bags all over the kitchen. In desperation my mom found a recipe for apple butter and simultaneously discovered canning rule No. 1: Patience. My mother stirred and stirred, but the mixture wouldn't thicken. She added more apples, and more sugar, and more cinnamon. When it finally thickened, the apple butter was only slightly less dense than uranium and had to be sliced with a knife.

Two apple harvests later, I thought I'd try my hand at canning. I figured hovering over a pot of cinnamon and brown sugar for an evening couldn't be too terrible. Everyone assured me the apple butter was delicious, but after stirring mushed apples for three hours, I had lost my appetite.

My husband created labels on the computer, and we mailed jars of apple butter to relatives all over the country, gave it to co-workers, and still had a two-year (and counting) supply left over.

There are no shortcuts to homemade apple butter. The recipe isn't meant to be precise, so you have to be flexible and willing to do a lot of taste-testing. (Volunteers shouldn't be hard to find, just make sure you sign them up for stirring detail.)

Batches of apples will vary in sweetness and juiciness, so you may need to vary the amount of sugar and cider. The butter should be dark in color and thick but spreadable

Stir-Crazy Apple Butter

3 cups sweet apple cider

8 pounds tart, juicy apples such as Granny Smith or Pippin

3 cups brown sugar

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoons ground allspice

1/2 teaspoons ground cloves

1/4 teaspoons salt

Boil the cider in a large non-aluminum kettle until the amount is reduced to one-half (about 30 minutes).

Quarter and core the apples but do not peel them. Add apples to the reduced cider and cook over low heat until the apples are tender; stirring almost constantly. When the apples are very soft, force the mixture through a sieve or strainer, and return mixture to the kettle.

Add the sugar, spices, and salt and cook over low heat until the mixture thickens, stirring constantly, for about one-half hour.

Pack apple butter in sterilized mason jars to within 1/2-inch of the top. Seal with new lids and metal rings.

Process in a hot-water bath for 15 minutes. Remove, cool, and check seals before storing.

Makes 4 pints.

Sunny Bixby's sweet lime pickle recipe came with her house. When she and her husband bought their farm in upstate New York, "the lady who sold us the house gave us the pickle recipe." Ms. Bixby's sweet pickles are a remarkable glowing green. They look like they've been colored with a Crayola marker (actually, a few drops of food coloring does the trick). They're best when served on ham or turkey sandwiches. When Bixby cans, she usually makes a two-year supply. Her pickles are so popular that last year she made about 25 quarts.

Sweet Lime Pickles

2 cups hydrated lime (available where canning supplies are sold)

2 gallons cold water

7 pounds cucumbers, sliced

3-3/4 pounds of sugar

2 quarts white vinegar

12 tablespoons celery seed

2 teaspoons pickling spices

1 tablespoon salt

A few drops of green food coloring

Dissolve the hydrated lime in the water, stirring well until dissolved. Soak the cucumber slices 24 hours in the lime and water solution. Drain and rinse cucumbers Cover with cold water and let stand about three hours; drain again.

Combine remaining ingredients and pour over drained cucumbers, and let stand 8 to 10 hours. Cook for an additional 25 to 30 minutes. Pack and seal in sterilized Mason jars

Makes 9 pints

Those feeling adventurous may want to try this recipe for dried tomatoes in olive oil, which will keep in the refrigerator for several weeks, and are perfect in salads, on pizza, or in omelets or stews.

Plum or Roma tomatoes work best as they are less watery than most garden varieties.

Dried Tomatoes In Olive Oil

6 pounds fresh Italian plum or Roma tomatoes

2 tablespoons coarse or kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/2 cup whole basil leaves

1/4 cup capers, drained

2 cups extra-virgin olive oil

Slice tomatoes in half lengthwise and lay them, skin side down, on two rimmed baking sheets, wedging them closely together. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and place in the upper third of oven.

Set oven to the lowest setting and let tomatoes dry for 24 hours. Tomatoes are done when shrunk to about one third of their size and the moisture has evaporated from the center. If they still feel spongy, continue drying for eight or so more hours, or until shriveled and leathery.

Remove from oven and let cool. Pack tomatoes, basil, and capers in hot, sterilized jars. Fill with olive oil to within 1/2-inch of the top. Wipe rims clean with a damp towel and seal with new lids and metal rings. Process in a hot-water bath for 15 minutes. Remove, cool, and check seals before storing.

Makes about two pints.

-- From "Preserving the Taste," By Edon Waycott

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