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Canning Inferno

I’ve been paging through my canning cookbook in my spare time and selecting recipes that I want to try. I found two that I decided to attempt this weekend: Tomatillo Salsa and a concoction called Inferno Wine Jelly. I love hot pepper jelly and the latter was the closest thing that I found that didn’t call for food coloring.

I didn't have quite enough tomatillos for the double batch of salsa so I grabbed a couple of green tomatoes from my garden.

I didn’t have quite enough tomatillos for the double batch of salsa so I grabbed a couple of green tomatoes from my garden.

I ended up with more salsa than I thought and hadn't washed enough jars. I put the extra in a new jar (once I could wash it) and froze it instead.

I ended up with more salsa than I thought and hadn’t washed enough jars. I put the extra in a new jar (once I could wash it) and froze it instead.

In addition to the frozen jar, I ended up with eight processed jars. The salsa needs to sit for a few weeks so the flavors can meld.

In addition to the frozen jar, I ended up with eight processed jars. The salsa needs to sit for a few weeks so the flavors can meld.

I goofed on the recipe for the wine jelly, which contains flecks of pepper. I made a double batch of the jelly as well, but forgot to double the amount of pectin. Not wanting to waste the $45 worth of wine in the recipe, I decided to reboil it. Just as well as the peppers are better distributed in the redo batch.

I goofed on the recipe for the wine jelly, which contains flecks of pepper. I made a double batch of the jelly as well, but forgot to double the amount of pectin. Not wanting to waste the $45 worth of wine in the recipe, I decided to reboil it. Just as well, as the peppers are better distributed in the redo batch.

Ta-da! If it turns out the jelly still isn't as set as it should be, I'll call it glaze and that will be that.

Ta-da! If it turns out the jelly still isn’t as set as it should be, I’ll call it glaze and that will be that.

 

More Adventures in Canning

I spent most of today canning farmer’s market tomatoes and a crisper full of cucumbers from my garden. I ended up with 9 quarts of crushed tomatoes and 9 pints of bread and butter pickle chips.

Now, I’m very tired. I just tried to put my dirty laundry in the chest freezer. Note to self: Don’t can and do laundry on the same day.

I ran out of ice for cooling down the tomatoes after I scalded them.

I ran out of ice for cooling down the tomatoes after I scalded them.

Beauty shot of the peeled tomatoes. It took me two hours to peel them all.

Beauty shot of the peeled tomatoes. It took me two hours to peel them all.

All that work was worth it. Now I'm set for soups, chili and sauces.

All that work was worth it. Now I’m set for soups, chili and sauces.

I needed to use a garden pail to accommodate all of the cuke slices in their salt solution.

I needed to use a garden pail to accommodate all of the cuke slices in their salt solution.

I had to omit celery seed (due to allergies) from the recipe I followed for these pickles -- hopefully they still taste good. I'll find out in a couple of weeks!

I had to omit celery seed (due to allergies) from the recipe I followed for these pickles — hopefully they still taste good. I’ll find out in a couple of weeks!

A neighbor came over to check out my pressure canner while I was working on the tomatoes. We’re going to have a canning party and either collaborate on one big batch of something or work on complimentary items — possibly beer mustard and sauerkraut.

Fate and Brandied Peaches

Yesterday, I bought a huge box of Blades Orchard peach seconds for $18 at the farmer’s market, with the intention of making brandied peaches last night. But I ended up working all day and ran out of steam that evening while I unpacked jars, the pressure canner and other equipment I’d need for the project. I decided to wait until today.

It wasn’t until this morning that I realized what day it was. My Aunt Teri’s birthday. She was the inspiration for making the brandied peaches in the first place — she was famous for them. They were coveted gifts and a beloved side at family holiday meals. After eating the peaches, we often used the leftover juice for making bellinis. But the world has been without Teri’s brandied peaches since she died two years ago. I still miss her (and her brandied peaches) terribly.

I truly believe fate intervened so that I would be canning the peaches on her birthday.

I used one garden pail to ice down the scalded peaches and another full of lemon water to keep them from browning.

I used one garden pail to ice down the scalded peaches and another full of lemon water to keep them from browning.

This was my first foray into large-batch canning. I knew it would be a lot of work and I was right. It took no less than two hours to get just the peaches ready for adding to the simple syrup. I boiled them briefly in an enormous stock pot to loosen the skins and then dunked them in a  large garden pail full of ice water to cool them down. Meanwhile, I put the canning jars in the dishwasher to heat them up and started boiling the lids.

I had to peel and halve or quarter the fruit, depending on the size of the peach (and there were some huge ones). Then I could finally add them to the simple syrup boiling away on the stove. I had looked up several recipes for brandied peaches as I didn’t have Teri’s. I finally settled on the Spirited Peaches recipe in the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.

The box of peach seconds had some interesting specimens.

The box of peach seconds had some interesting specimens.

I ended up with about 25 cups of peaches to process, which filled 7 quart jars for the pressure canner and two bonus jars that I processed for keeping in the fridge. Some of the peaches ended up not being fit for canning, which is just as well — I had more than enough to work with!

I felt like my Aunt Teri was watching over me through the entire process, but whether she was guiding me like a guardian angel or laughing her ass off as I created a huge mess, I don’t know (probably both).

By the end, there was peach juice everywhere and just the smell of brandy in my kitchen was making me tipsy. I think I probably made some rookie mistakes. From what I understand, the fruit shouldn’t be floating to the top of the jars like they are in the photo below — I probably didn’t pack enough into the jars. I’m not the only one to have that happen though. I am hopeful that they will be edible, if not close in taste to Aunt Teri’s peaches.

photo 4-10

Spicy Peach Smoothie

I know this blog has been quiet for quite awhile. I think of it often, but haven’t gotten my butt in gear to write. But then I made this, and I knew I had to share it with the rest of you:

Spicy Peach Smoothie

Spicy Peach Smoothie

I recently started a fruit share from Blades Orchard and it’s peach season. This week, we got white peaches and regular (if by regular, you mean huge) peaches. They’re great to slice up and eat, but a coworker suggested that I make a peach smoothie.

Genius.

So I combed the interwebs for smoothie recipes. All called for either dairy or a non-dairy milk (meh). I then happened upon a couple of recipes that called for coconut milk (the real stuff, not that sweetened liquidy cereal-milk replacement).

And so I was inspired. Lately, I’ve been adding a lot of ginger and turmeric to stuff. The benefits of doing so are many (anti-inflammatory, tasty, etc.). This smoothie is no exception. The ginger really gives this smoothie some bite and the turmeric helps boost the yellow color.

I’m weird and don’t like to drink super cold stuff. You could make a cold smoothie by adding a few ice cubes to the following or freezing some of the fruit before blending it.

Spicy Peach Smoothie
Serves 2 (or 1, if you are me and not willing to share)

2 large peaches, pitted and sliced
1 banana
1/2 can coconut milk
1 inch of fresh ginger, peeled
1 scant teaspoon ground turmeric
1 scant teaspoon honey

Blend it all until smooth and enjoy!

The Boxes Are Back!

I just picked up my first order from Eating Out of the Box this season and it resulted in a lovely impromptu dinner.

Here’s what came in my *small* box:

1 bunch assorted color carrots
1/2 dozen Asian pears
2 small heads of lettuce
1 bag arugula
2 bags of Asian-style greens
1 additional bag of what I think is bok choy
1 bunch of red radishes

This box was gifted to me for some assistance I’m lending to the program this season. I also ordered a couple more pounds of Asian pears and 5 bunches of lemongrass, which I immediately froze for future use in teas and soups.

So excited for the lemongrass!

For dinner, I sauteed one of the bags of Asian greens with some soy sauce, oil, ground ginger and ground black pepper. I added this to some kelp noodles (I’ll leave these out next time; they were an experiment).

Here’s a kickin’ Asian salad/dish topper for you:

1 handful raw cashews
1 healthy dash Sriracha
1 healthy dash sweet chili sauce

Saute the above together and prepare to be wowed.

Back to Eating Out of the Box. If you haven’t read about them on my blog before, check out their site. Easton residents can order fresh produce, meat and more through this service on a weekly basis — no season-long signup necessary. That is a huge advantage to this program. The produce is organic and everything is produced locally. I highly recommend you try it out!

Allergies Giveth (Seldomly), and Allergies Taketh Away. Mostly They Just Taketh Away.

Over the past couple of months I’ve been doing another dietary test where I eliminate all potential allergens from what I eat and then slowly reintroduce them to see if I can pinpoint problematic foods. I decided to go through this again in September after feeling miserable for several weeks.

After nearly a month of relatively clean eating, however, I was still experiencing the itchy rashes that I’d hoped would go away after eating only meat and vegetables (I avoided fruit for a time too to cut my sugar intake as much as possible. Sugar can exacerbate allergy symptoms.).

Then, two things happened:

1) I forgot to buy celery one week at the farmer’s market.

2) I tried unpasteurized cider. Because fresh-pressed cider is just too tempting in the fall. At an orchard. On a hot day.

Here’s how the celery factors in. I’ve been making green smoothies almost every morning, using a variety of ingredients, but the core ones are kale, cucumber, parsley and celery, with some source of natural sweetness mixed in (up until recently, just local honey). I even started adding hemp protein powder to make a more substantial snack.

But then I accidentally left a bunch of celery behind at the market one day. I forged ahead that week and simply omitted celery from my smoothies. The following Saturday, I picked up a bunch of celery at the market and added it back in the next morning.

Boom. Skin reaction.

I didn’t want it to be true though. Certain friends and family members of mine will probably disown me after learning of this new allergy (read on to find out why). I hadn’t meant to test celery — maybe it was something else that spurred the reaction? I decided to do a more scientific trial. I studiously paid more attention to everything I was eating and especially  whether the items contained celery. Today I reintroduced a food with celery in it. Itchiness set in within minutes. Crap.

Come to find out, almost everything has celery in it. And it comes in many forms — whole celery, celery juice, celery seed and celery salt. Also? Fennel and anise are related to celery. Turns out whatever doesn’t have celery in it probably has fennel or anise instead.

That’s not really true, but fennel and anise are very useful herbs/ingredients and I’d hate to have to omit them too.

But back to plain ol’ celery. Nearly all stocks have celery in them. Okay, I can face having to make my own. Actually, I was pleased to find at least one brand doesn’t have celery in its aseptic container of chicken stock. I found that out this evening while purging my cabinets of everything else that has celery in it. The local food pantry’s about to receive a lot of chicken and veggie broth/stock.

Many natural sausages and bacon (gulp) are treated with celery juice instead of sodium nitrite as a preservative. Actually, sodium nitrite is naturally occurring in celery juice, which is why they add it in. Luckily, the local farm from whence most of my meat comes doesn’t use celery juice. Okay, bacon supply is still in tact.

Here’s where I’ll take the biggest hit though. Guess what popular seasoning blend (especially here on the Shore) has celery (salt) as its main ingredient?

Old Bay.

I put Old Bay on everything. Crabs (duh), any seafood really, potatoes, tuna salad (wait, that’s more seafood), I even used to put it on eggs before I realized I was allergic to eggs. Anyhow, the list goes on. I fear I may not be able to get steamed crabs at a restaurant again. I’ll have to steam them myself.

One friend pointed out that many restaurants make their own seasoning blends for crabs and there’s a chance they don’t all use celery salt. Fingers crossed, but I’m bracing myself for the worst in the meantime. I do plan to contrive a recipe for my own version of Old Bay without celery salt.

So that’s the bad news. The worst news, actually, that I’ve had in this whole allergy discovery process.

But let’s not end this post on a bad note. Remember that cider? That unpasteurized goodness I tried at a local orchard? Well, all that amounts to is mushed up fresh apples, right?

Right. And up until now, for the past 20 years, I haven’t been able to eat fresh apples, or pears, or peaches, or plums, or… you get the idea. Turns out there’s a protein in fresh tree-borne fruit that many people, especially those with tree allergies, are allergic to. The only consolation was that the protein cooks off.

But I really wanted to try that cider! So I had a few sips. And then the best thing happened.

Absolutely nothing happened! My lips didn’t go numb. My gums didn’t start to ache. The back of my throat didn’t itch.

I had bought several apples with which to cook (I could eat those tree-borne fruits once they were cooked, after all). I took a bite out of one. Nothing but pure bliss happened.

You can’t imagine how good a fresh apple tastes after not being able to eat one for 20 years.

Since then, I’ve been eating about 3 apples a day to make up for lost time. The cider goes into my smoothies.

It’s almost consolation for losing Old Bay (at least for the time being). After all, if my fresh fruit allergy could go away, maybe I’ll be able to enjoy Old Bay again.

Let’s hope.

Provide Your Feedback on FDA Regulations That Could Impact Local Producers

I just finished submitting my comments on regulations.gov and to my legislators on FDA regulations that are under consideration right now and could dramatically impact small-scale providers of locally grown and produced foods.

Read the full details of the regulations and their potential impacts here on the Food Renegade blog.

I adapted the language on that site with my own comments and submitted it to regulations.gov at these links:

On-Farm Produce Rule: http://www.regulations.gov/#!submitComment;D=FDA-2011-N-0921-0199

Preventitive Controls/HARPC Rules: http://www.regulations.gov/#!submitComment;D=FDA-2011-N-0920-0188

I then sent the same comments to my federal legislators asking them to take my comments into account if they play any part in the process of finalizing such regulations.

Please consider doing the same thing. You can use my comments below:

As a consumer of locally produced food from farms in my area of the Eastern Shore of Maryland, I urge the FDA to address the following issues in the proposed FSMA rules. It is so important to make it EASIER for these small farms to operate, rather than throwing up hurdles and roadblocks.

Industrial agriculture lays waste to land that could feed local populations so much more easily, with less damage to the environment, and healthier food options for consumers. Save the onerous paperwork and inspections for the industrial-scale operations that are poisoning our land and our food with pesticides and GMO crops. Let the smaller-scale producers flourish.

Tester-Hagan “qualified exemption” in both the Produce Rule and the Preventive Controls Rule:
The gross sales test to qualify for the Tester-Hagan provision should be based on sales of food that is subject to FSMA, whether the produce standards or the preventive controls rule. Sales of food that would not be regulated under FSMA should not be included.

The FDA should not rush the process of revoking a producer’s Tester-Hagan exemption. The agency has other mechanisms it can use if there is an immediate threat of foodborne illness.
a) The FDA should be held to specific evidentiary standards before it can revoke a farmer’s or food facility’s Tester-Hagan exemption.
b) A farm or facility that is exempt under Tester-Hagan should be given at least 90 days to submit evidence and defend its exemption if FDA seeks to revoke it.
c) If the exemption is revoked, the farm or facility should have at least two years to come into compliance with the FSMA rules.

On-farm Produce Standards Rule:
The FDA’s approach to traditional farming methods, such as diversified livestock-crop farms, the use of working animals, and the use of biological soil amendments, is fundamentally flawed. The agency should not restrict these sustainable methods of farming without data showing an actual, verified increased rate of foodborne illness; the simple fact that these methods include diverse microbiological communities is not a sound scientific basis for restricting them.

The waiting period between applying manure and harvesting the crop should be no more than 4 months, and there should be no waiting period between applying compost and harvesting the crop. The excellent track record for safety on organic farms shows that this standard is sufficient.

Compost teas and other biological inoculants, including normal additives such as molasses, should be treated the same as compost.

Water testing should not be required more often than once a month, and farmers should be able to test less frequently after establishing the safety of their water source through consecutive negative tests. In addition, farmers should be given the option to test for pathogens, rather than having to treat or stop using the water that tested positive for generic e. coli.

The provisions on wildlife and domestic livestock need to be clarified to protect farmers who use biologically diverse farming from field inspectors using their discretion to require measures such as fencing or destruction of habitat.

Preventive Controls and HARPC Rule:
“Very small facilities” should be defined as being under $1 million in total annual sales, adjusted for inflation. Imposing HARPC requirements on businesses smaller than that is unnecessary and overly burdensome.

Any requirement for “supplier verification” should not prevent a facility from purchasing foods or ingredients from farms and facilities that are exempt from the regulations under the Tester-Hagan provision or other exemptions.

Low-risk activities conducted by a farm using its own products, such as making jams, grinding grains, or dehydrating vegetables, should not be subject to these regulations.

Low-risk activities, when conducted off-farm or by multiple farms working together, should not be subject to the same requirements as high-risk processing activities. The requirements should address both the scale of the operations and the level of risk of the activity.

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