Summer’s End–Family, Community, and Canning.

School started this week, and for the first time, its arrival felt bittersweet. Usually, by this time, I feel like I will sell my soul to their teachers in exchange for removing the Heathens from my home for a few hours a day. August means we’ve devolved into who-looked-at-who the wrong way, which in turn, ends up being a crossover between “Who Moved My Cheese?” and The Hunger Games.  This year, however, summer seemed to fly by at a too-rapid pace. It doesn’t help that G-Man is a junior, Bear is a freshman, and Bean is in (gulp!) first grade. I wish I had a few more days at the pool or the camp, but in the end, the promise of less than 100-degree heat means that I’ll get over it quickly. So, the summer recap:

We had our epic family reunion with my 80-plus cousins who are just as zany as we are, fun days at the Gulf and the camp, questionable fishing, and general mayhem:

There was some knitting, which I will post about tomorrow:

I smoked and cooked at bit (including hosting 4th of July for our neighborhood, and tackling fresh pasta):

But, if I had to sum up this summer, I would call it The Summer of Canning. We spent the spring installing and planting several raised beds in our postage stamp-sized back yard. We hope to adopt a year-round gardening plan down the road, but ultimately, I think the Husband and I feel called to find a balance between the frantic digital pace of modern daily life, and the skills, traditions, and values that we internalized from our parents and grandparents.

We want to raise well-balanced, knowledgeable kids that have adequate life skills by graduation, or at least some exposure to many things and the attitude that they can figure crap out if they try. This isn’t just about gardening. G-Man must have changed tires on the family car six times this summer as we dealt with failing tires and those pesky nails the contractors down the road kept dropping. He also has a bank account, and I’ll send that kid to the Kroger at the drop of at hat, which means he now knows where to find vinegar and pectin, and the difference between a poblano and a banana pepper. G-Man and Bear can cook a meal, bake a mean cookie, and follow a recipe while adapting if needed. As such, the garden is another extension of our desire for fresh produce and deliciousness, while modelling life skills that might keep our kids from being left for zombie bait in the event of a Walking Dead scenario. Kidding…Kidding…

But, with that garden, came the dilemma of keeping up with it. I swore to the Husband that I would not let his efforts go to waste. I’ve written about canning before, but this behemoth was beyond my ability to manage, or at least my available time. But then, the blessing came. My neighbor had never canned and wanted to learn, so I did a quick recipe with her (that she brought over) so she could get the basics. One thing led to another. Before long, we transformed into a well-oiled operation of shared labor and shared bounty. We worked side-by-side each week, harvesting, prepping, and putting up recipe after recipe. We fought the bugs, the heat, our restless kids, and the burn of hot peppers from forgotten gloves. As the days blended together, we visited, shared stories and memories, and ended up with overflowing pantries of salsa, jalapeno jelly, serrano jelly, pickled peppers and onions, cucumber relish, pickles, spicy tomato jam, pickled jalapenos, and more.


We even put together and vacuum-sealed bacon-wrapped jalapeno poppers for fall and winter entertaining. A full pantry and freezer soothes my soul and makes me feel more connected to the strong women in my family tree. That was something I didn’t expect, but I’ll take any day.

Over these intense kitchen sessions, I noted to my neighbor that I can now see why chores like canning, quilting, butchering, and harvesting historically often turned into group events. People helped their neighbors or friends with these labor-intensive activities not only to share the load, but also to connect in a way we now have lost, and which we often miss in our disconnected, overworked, digital lives. (and yes, I get the irony of saying that on my digital blog, but I do believe we can all find a better balance between the power of the internet to connect and educate us, and the temptation for it to consume us at the expense of genuine experiences). Whether we were enveloped by steam from the canner, or got lost in the hours of chopping 12 pounds of tomatoes at a time, we strengthened our bonds as both friends and neighbors in a way that made me feel closer to her, and my family’s history and traditions.

So, as I come to summer’s end, I still feel like it flew by, but as I reflect, I also think of it as time of connecting with family and neighbors, cultivating skills, and transitioning from the tragedy of losing my father to letting the light back in. That, if anything, was probably the best takeaway of all.

But you know what’s even better about summer’s end? I can now plan the Halloween decorations and party. Mwhahahah!

Community Cookbook Throwback Thursday–“Carrot Fritters”

**If this is your first visit, here’s the intro to my CCTT project.**

So, this week’s CCTT recipe comes from Talk About Good! which was published by the Junior League of Lafayette in 1967. Since it’s original publication, it has undergone 31 additional printings, with nearly 800,000 copies sold. This was another book I remember from Mom’s collection, and I managed to snag it at a local bookstore, giving me hope that I can recover some of that history. It definitely embodies the time period, with recipes that are staples, as well as curiosities that definitely show their age. In these recipes, I am learning more about my Mom and grandmothers, because they showcase a generation on a bridge. The rise of processed foods clearly has an impact, yet I can still see the traditions that stood the test of time. For example, my mom was convinced margarine was way better for you, but Hamburger Helper was for sad people who just didn’t know any better. In essence, she was a total purist with a blind spot for convenience foods that made life easier (I’m looking at you, canned biscuits). On to the matter at hand…

The devil-cold I thought I beat last week came raging back this week with the vengeance that only a secondary infection can bring, so I selected an easy recipe for this week. That’s also the reason I’m a day late with this post. Give me a demerit, with a chaser of decongestant, please. And alllllll the whiskey.

These “Carrot Fritters” were submitted by Mrs. Avery G. Landry and Ida Moran. The Heathen’s like carrots, and the husband can put a serious hurting on a traditional carrot soufflé, so I figured this was a safe bet for continuing to ease them into the prospect of regular kitchen experimentation.

The verdict? See the notes.

**Remember, I will copy the recipe exactly as written and provide my own notes, alterations,  and observations after**

Carrot Fritters

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Ingredients

  • 1-pound bag of carrots
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 cup milk (scant)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp. butter
  • 1 egg

Procedure

  1. Boil scraped carrots until very tender. Chop hot carrots with dough blender until smooth, adding sugar and butter while still warm. Add egg and vanilla, blend in flour and baking powder and mix with a spoon. Add scant amount of milk, so that batter has consistency to be dropped by spoonfuls into hot cooking oil (this is not deep fat frying). Browning takes about 5 minutes.

My Notes

  • Ok, so to make this recipe clear, you want to cook your chopped carrots until tender (scraped just means peeled, but I don’t peel my carrots, so take that for what it’s worth). After that, I streamlined the recipe as follows:
  • After reading the recipe, I decided the food processor was the tool for the job. I put the butter and sugar in the Cuisinart, then added the cooked and drained carrots. I pulsed it briefly, then left it alone for about 5 minutes to cool off. (I did not want the egg to scramble in the hot mixture)
  • Next, I added the egg and vanilla, pulsed about three times, then added the flour and baking powder, and pulsed a couple of more times. Finally I added the milk a few tablespoons at a time (to be careful), but I ended up using all the milk. The result is a batter on the thicker side, and is cross between a fritter and a thick pancake.
  • I used a pretty large non-stick skillet and about a 1/3 to 1/2 cup of vegetable oil, which I heated on med-high heat. I dropped about an ice cream scoop-size spoonful of batter into the oil and browned the fritters on both sides, about 2-3 minutes per side.
  • These definitely taste like carrot soufflé fried like a pancake or fritter, which my husband loved. If you like carrot soufflé, you will love them.
  • The sugar content in these makes them brown fast and easily burn. You have to keep an eye on them and cook them at a slightly lower temp than you would cook traditional pancakes or fritters.
  • I thought they were a little too sweet, but everyone else loved them. Next time, I would add a pinch of salt to balance the sugar content, and I would try them with brown sugar instead of granulated to add a depth of flavor.
  • Finally, this recipe made about 5 decent-sized fritters for our family of 5, but they are so rich, this was PLENTY. I was worried, but one per person is a safe bet.
  • If you try a CCTT recipe, let me know! Also, if you have a vintage recipe to share, let me know too!

What’s for Dinner? A Link List of What We Are Eating This Week

I spend quite a but of time looking for new dinner inspiration, because my house full of picky eaters must find a balance with my need to try different recipes while also having a modicum of variety in my diet. The Heathens have come a long way, (and the Hubs, if less so), but I still often find myself fighting the need to stab someone with a fork when my answer to “What’s for dinner?” is met with the pained groans of children who think my lovingly prepared meals are a direct and premeditated form of torture.

So, I decided to throw up my plan for dinner this week, just in case you need a little inspiration.

Today: Slow Cooker Korean Beef with rice and sugar snap peas. (This recipe can easily be made in the Instant Pot, and she may have even posted a how-to on that. Kroger had chuck roast on sale this week, so this was a no-brainer for me. The savory-sweet-mild spice of this recipe offers a good compromise for everyone. As for the peas, I just steam them and toss them with a little butter and plenty of salt.)

Tuesday: Glazed Pork Chops with Crash Hot Potatoes and lima beans. (The glaze for the pork chops for this recipe is wayyyyyyyyyy too much, and read the reviews if you don’t believe me. I cut it down by half, which is good for the 6 chops I make with some leftover if needed.)

Wednesday: Sticky Apricot Drumsticks with rice and a yet-to-be determined veggie, probably something for the CCTT post. (Rather than use drumsticks in this recipe, I am going to use boneless, skinless chicken thighs to make it easier for the kids to eat.  This recipe seems weird, but trust me, it works.)

Thursday: Maple-Mustard Flat Iron Steaks with Blue Cheese-Pecan Confetti and Butternut Squash and Caramelized Onion Galette. (Yep, not really kid friendly, so I may add a more appealing side and leave off the blue cheese and pecans on the kids’ plates. However, every once in a while, the person doing the cooking gets to cook something she wants. Using pre-cut butternut squash in the air fryer cuts the prep time on the galette way down).

Friday: Probably going to try this version of Indian Butter Chicken for the Instant Pot. (I am fairly sure skepticism will cause Heathen bitching, but I at least know the husband likes Indian food, or at least what version we can get in NW Louisiana. This recipe seems to have great reviews, so maybe it will be a good gamble.)

So, there ya have it. A few ideas that may be worth checking out, but remember, if you are doing the cooking, it’s ok not to be the picky eater caterer on occasion. They will live, I promise.

Community Cookbook Throwback Thursday–“Broccoli with Rice” (aka Broccoli. Cheese and Rice Casserole

To kick off the first installment of CCTT, I decided to play it fairly safe and select a recipe I was reasonably sure everyone in this house would eat. (For info about my CCTT project, read here).

This recipe comes from Cotton Country, which was published by The Junior League of Monroe, Louisiana in 1972. The book includes over 1000 recipes, and this particular recipe was submitted by Mrs. Armand E. Breard.

I made this following the directions exactly, and both the husband and the Heathens liked it. You really never can go wrong with a good broccoli rice casserole, and this version is a tasty, basic recipe that is also quick and easy to throw together.

**For CCTT, I will post the recipe exactly as written in the cookbook, but provide my notes and interpretations at the end.**

Broccoli with Rice

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Ingredients

  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 rib celery, chopped
  • 1 package frozen chopped broccoli
  • 1 can cream of chicken soup
  • 1 cup grated cheese or one small jar Cheese Whiz
  • 1-1/2 cups cooked rice
  • Tabasco
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • bread crumbs

Procedure

In a large skillet, sauté the onions and celery in butter until the vegetables are clear. Cook broccoli according to package directions; drain well. Mix broccoli with soup and cheese; add celery and onions. Stir in rice; season and mix well. Put into a greased casserole and top with bread crumbs. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. This cam be mixed ahead and frozen.

My Notes

  • I used a package of steam-in-the-bag frozen broccoli and I think it was about 10 or 12 ounces
  • You can easily substitute cream of celery in this
  • I used Cheese Whiz, and I think a small jar is about 8 ounces. If you can’t find a small jar, just use half of the 15-ounce jar. If you go with grated cheese, NEVER use pre-shredded cheese in casseroles and sauces. The anti-caking agent they put on pre-shredded cheese to prevent sticking also prevents it from melting evenly and you won’t get the best result in any recipe.
  • I only added a couple of dashes of Tabasco to keep the Heathens from fussing too much.
  • I’d say I probably added 3/4 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. of pepper for the seasoning, but just play it by ear.
  • When she says “clear” in reference to the veggies, she just means translucent/softened.
  • You can use seasoned breadcrumbs for this or plain.
  • Usually, the term “casserole” means a 9×13 dish, but when I added the mixture, it ended up being a pretty thin layer in the pan. Next time, I will use a smaller dish or double the recipe.
  • This would be a great potluck dish or side for a big gathering.
  • You could turn this into a full meal by adding cooked chicken, but I would consider increasing the sauce by half to accommodate the chicken.

 

 

Coming Soon: “Communty Cookbook Throwback Thursday”–A Haphazard Journey Through Grief and Seriously Questionable Coping Mechanisms.

See the source image

***Insert meaningful and insightful intro here…or not***

Before my mom passed away, she amassed quite the cookbook collection, many of which she inherited from her mother, or were gifts from the dozens of cousins, aunts, etc. that make up my huge, southern, zany extended family. And that’s where this post and the new series on my blog begins…

I remember spending hours flipping through those books, and not really understanding all of the history they contained, or what they represented to my mother. I would sit at her small, marble-topped kitchen table, turning the wrinkled, dog-eared pages while she miraculously bent our tiny, galley kitchen to her culinary will. Often, she’d pause mid-dinner prep to wash my cornsilk-like hair in the sink, setting a towel on the edge to cradle my neck before sending me off to a proper bath.

I always knew when she was feeling particularly down or frustrated, because that’s when she would fry chicken. After I had kids, she confessed that cooking our traditional fried chicken dinner (with rice, gravy, peas, and biscuits…preferably with mayhaw jelly), was a mental and emotional escape. She found that cooking that meal was the closest connection she could find to her own childhood memories, as well as a unique therapy when tackling the more difficult of life’s challenges.

When we moved to California, Mom was alone in a new place with no family and support system, which looking back, must have been incredibly lonely for her. Sometimes, her loneliness seemed like an invisible raincloud that blanketed our home, and she retreated to the kitchen like it was the only connection to her family and sense of home she could find.  I also remember that, during these low periods,  she pulled out the same few cookbooks from her collection, which were published works from the assorted regional chapters of Louisiana’s Junior League, churches, or other community cookbooks.

When she wanted to try something new, those were the books she looked to for a familiar foundation. Unlike a nationally published cookbook full of glossy photographs of culinary perfection, Mom was more inclined to try a new recipe that she knew came from the communities of her home state (as well as what came from her mother’s and aunts’ generation), and I think these books helped ease the homesickness that seemed to be her constant companion during those years. Other than the familiar recipes and techniques of her up-bringing, any recipe experiments began with a foray into those collections for research she felt she could trust. Looking back, I see that they were more like dictionaries and encyclopedias for a generation that wouldn’t see accessible internet or even unlimited long-distance calls for many years to come

By the time I was in middle school, I knew that the chocolate pie recipe I liked was in The Revel, the Christmas cookie recipe was in Cotton Country, and if I could not remember which recipes she had tried, I could always see her handwritten code in the margins to clue me in (a “check-plus-plus” meant she really liked it). I didn’t realize until we moved home, and I had spent more time with my extended family, that the various Louisiana Junior League  and community cookbooks from that era were staples in every kitchen. Growing up in southern California, I did not realize how much community cookbooks were such an ingrained part of our Louisiana culture.

Unfortunately, I don’t have access to Mom’s cookbook collection, so when I stumbled across a copy of Cotton Country at a local bookstore, I snatched it up and ran to the register like I was Indiana Jones avoiding that whole boulder issue. What is amazing about the iconic cookbooks of the various chapters of the Louisiana Junior League (published in the 60’s and 70’s) and local churches, is that they continue to be staples in many of our homes, which is why I was able to find this one. For example, Cotton Country was published in 1972 by the Junior League of Monroe, with a first printing of 10,000 copies. Since that time, the book has gone through 21 additional printings, with some topping 60,000 copies per printing, and the most recent being 5,000 in 2016. The book I purchased is identical to the original publication, with the only upgrade being a hardback binding that replaced the annoying comb binding. The book has no photographs, hundreds of recipes, lots of original artwork, and demonstrates just how much a labor of love these books were for their creators. I remarked to my husband about how much work these books were for local communities, because they were complied long before we had computers and software to streamline the process. From the meticulous index to the sheer volume of recipes, I imagine this book, and those like it, was a momentous undertaking and a great source of pride for the women who created it.

As I flip through the recipes, they seem like a microcosm of a by-gone era, both good and bad. I see how much they focused on entertaining (some have notes “will feed 25 for appetizers, or 12 for entrees”), which is something I think we all could use a little more of (entertaining, that is). I feel like the more digitally connected we get, the less meaningfully connected we become to our friends and neighbors, and that a little real togetherness could do us all some good.  These books also often give the ambiguous language of seasoned cooks (“just add to your taste”), which definitely reminds me of the women in my family, and why growing the confidence in cooking through experience is important in familial development.

However, along with all the feel-good nostalgia, I also know that these books also reflect the imbalances of race, gender, and socioeconomic classes that were just as much a part of those decades as beautiful Crab Mornay in elegant silver chafing dishes. In fact, each recipe in my recent purchase features the contributors’ names not as their own, but as a subset of their husbands. For example, rather than see “Mrs. Ann Smith,” you see “Mrs. John Smith,” a tradition that luckily seems to have faded slowly as modern South catches up. If anyone ever tried to call me “Mrs. Bayou-Husband,” I’d probably snort my cocktail right out of my nose. I well know that as charming as many of these books are, and the nostalgia they trigger, we could uncover an entire underlying narrative of racial and class dynamics that deserves acknowledgement, and that I could never do the justice that it deserves.

So, let’s circle back around to what this post is really about. A couple of months ago, I lost my father suddenly, and without warning. I’m trying to process the year-after-year grief sandwich life keeps serving me, losing my grandmother, mother, and father in such a short, successive time. After Mom died, that grief was like acid, eating away at me and it’s pretty much been a self-pity party ever since. This was a trauma I did, and do not, handle well. Except for those times when I kick myself in reminder that I am so blessed, it’s ridiculous. I wallow, but I also kick my own ass nearly everyday because perspective is the first step to a more graceful approach to the grief sandwich digestion project.

I think one of the most difficult parts of losing both parents is that I also feel like I lost a connection to my grandparents, because my parents helped keep their histories alive through their own stories and memories (though I was truly blessed to have my grandmother on Dad’s side live to see all of her great-grandchildren born and to be here for me into my mid-30’s). My mom regaled me of stories of her mom, including that she was a master sewer though my mom could not sew a stitch. I’m scared that I’ll lose those pieces in the telling of the stories to my own kids, and that they lost their own maternal grandparents at such a young age, when I had most of mine into my late teens to 30’s. I had the village. My kids’ village has shrunk in ways they will never know how to miss, but it also encourages me to embrace what’s still here.

I decided that one way to try and prevent an even deeper dive into the unhealthy grief sandwich starts with these cookbooks that defined so much of both my mom’s life, but also all the people in my crazy, zany, lovable family. Both Mom and Dad carried emotional weights from their own upbringings, and I want to learn from what worked and what didn’t. As a crafter, cook, and general maker, of course my approach starts with “PROJECT!!!”

I’m starting a new segment on the blog called “Community Cookbook Throwback Thursday” in which I will make a recipe from an old Junior League, church, or otherwise community cookbook close to me. You will see an unvarnished attempt at the recipe of the week, even if it fails epically, as well as my notes on how to translate the vague portions and directions into coherent words for an actually repeatable recipe.

So, if you actually managed to read this, you get a gold star! Stay tuned for culinary adventures and plenty of mishaps. And maybe, by the end of this little or big experiment, grief won’t be quite such a four-letter word. No promises there, but I promise a good cocktail along the way.

Yep, I Went Back Down the Rabbit Hole–My Air Fryer Review and What You Need to Know Before You Buy

Oh y’all…..The Instant Pot suckered me in, and as such, I somehow convinced myself that if the IP was that cool, surely the air fryers everyone was talking about would be a good investment. After Christmas, I finally caved and bought one, and after playing with it for a week, I’m ready to tell ya what I think of these doo-dads. To clarify, I wanted a way to still give my family agreeable foods that also err on the healthier side. I am trying to get back on my wellness goals, and I figured that, if this thing worked, it would be worth the investment.

The above picture shows the air fryer I bought, but with so many brands and sizes, I encourage you to do your research, because these things can range from $70 to $300 bucks.

Here’s a basic rundown on my pros and cons:

Cons

  • Appliance size. These are fairly large, but I have room in a cabinet to store it. If you are limited on space and don’t want this thing sitting on your counter, consider storage options before you buy. The only appliances I let sit out are my husband’s coffee maker, Cuisinart food processer, and my professional KitchenAid mixer. The space footprint on this model is about that of an average stockpot/Dutch oven to give you a reference.
  • Small cooking volume. With a family of five, three of which are hungry men, the cooking capacity of mine is on the small size (I think 4.2 quarts is what this is). When I do use it, I have to cook in batches if I’m cooking for all of us. You can’t crowd it too much or you won’t get the desired result. However, for smaller families or couples, this would work. I don’t mind doing batch cooking on some things, but if I could go back, I would invest in the largest capacity I could find. So, understand the size of your prospective model, and go big if you can.
  • It has limitations, and if you are one of those people who thinks the IP should be able to cook alllllll the things at once like a magician, you might need to adjust your expectations. This is not a substitute for deep-fryer perfection results (especially for super-wet stuff), but with some exceptions, you can get good results for many things. You have to use some cooking commonsense when it comes to managing your expectations.

Pros

  • It works! (assuming you managed those expectations) When used correctly, I’ve been able to achieve results 100 times better than “oven” frying. While I would not make my Mom’s fried chicken in this thing, I am able to achieve crispy foods with great texture depending on the recipe.
  • I’m able to use just a few pumps of olive oil spray, so definitely calorie savings all around, which is exactly what I hoped.
  • It’s fast to preheat and cook. I think there is a learning curve to these if you aren’t on confident cook. That’s ok, though. You can check the food as you cook, without much disruption to the process.
  • Superior performance, taste, and texture when it comes to frozen fries and snacks when compared to oven baking. Additionally, my own experiments produced good results.

So, the first time I used it, I made the Pickle-Brined Chicken Tenders from the Skinny Taste website. I didn’t get a picture, but I prepared the recipe as directed and sprayed them with a few pumps of Pam olive oil spray. They were delicious, crispy, and perfectly acceptable to both me and the kids. That will definitely make it into the rotation. Next, I tossed in half a bag of Alexa sweet potato fries:

I sprayed them with a few pumps of the olive oil spray, cooked them at 390 for 8 minutes, gave the basket a good shake, and cooked for about 5-6 more minutes. The result was perfect for my taste, and I ate the whole plate (then promptly ran out and bought more).

Next, I didn’t get a pic, but I cooked a bag of frozen Crab Rangoon, which also turned out well as far as texture and time, which has me already scheming for Super Bowl possibilities. Additionally, I have teenage boys and the prospect of making mozzarella sticks or other snacks fast and with good results makes me happy.

Finally, I decided to test Brussels Sprouts. I just halved them, added few sprays of olive oil, salt, then 8 minutes on 360. I gave the basket a good shake to toss, then cooked 3 more minutes:

So, final thoughts. This thing definitely was worth the investment, but I also knew what I was getting into based on my research. I am already thinking about Asian hot wings, roasted sweet potatoes, and many more experiments on the horizon. I also think this will give me options to prepare for myself faster and lighter portions of traditional dinners that are for the hubs and the Heathens. Overall, though the size of my model is the biggest con, I am happy I bought an air fryer.

**Remember, my opinions and reviews are all my own. No one solicited me or gave me free stuff, because I’m just not that cool, y’all. There are no affiliate links on my blog, and if you see an ad, that comes from WordPress, not me, because my blog is from their free-hosting plan.**

Steaming Up The Kitchen

tomatoesWe are deep in the heart of summer, and my husband’s garden is putting out veggies faster than we can use them…much to the delight of his co-workers. I’ve been using up or canning as fast as I can, and I love seeing the cabinets slowly filling up:

jarsI’m about to embark on a batch of enchilada sauce (because who doesn’t like that idea), and as much as I hate turning my kitchen into a sauna on an already 100-degree day, it’s totally worth it. Our booming tomato crop is one of the best parts of summer, and I’m going to stretch it as far as humanly possible. I also added two new books to my preserving collection to ensure we have as many options as possible:

books

While I love canning, I have to admit that sometimes, expectations and reality need a little reconciliation, regardless of your level of experience. If you’re ready to hop in the kitchen with a fresh crop, here’s my five basic tips/thoughts to get started:

  1. If you’re a canning newbie, by all means, buy a book. The Ball Blue Book is a great reference for all things preserving, including what can be water-bathed and what needs a pressure canner. Most of the recipes in this book are basic staples, but it really is a great starting point. Unless you love a good case of life-threatening food poisoning, don’t go surfing Pinterest for canning recipes. You want to start with published, tested recipes that are crafted by people who actually know a little something about food safety.
  2. Dispel any notions you have about “quick and easy.” Yes, canning is easy. However, if you think you are going to transform those 10 pounds of tomatoes into salsa in under an hour, you’re in for a reality check. While that salsa may only have a 15-minute processing time, the majority of your time will be spent preparing the vegetables and cooking the mixtures. If you have help, it will go faster, but if you’re coring and chopping all that mess yourself, you’re in for a project. It’s no big deal if you know what you’re in for, but when a project takes significantly longer than people expect, they can get discouraged.
  3. Make sure you have everything you need laid out before you start. Once you get going, you’re usually stuck. So, if you misjudged how much sugar/lemon/pectin you’d need, you may be SOL depending on the recipe. While this is true of all cooking, canning does not allow shortcuts or substitutions so you cannot improvise on the fly.
  4. Don’t can something just to can it. Use recipes that you will use or your family will actually want to eat. Otherwise you will just end up with a cabinet full of jars you’ll throw out next summer. For example, my family would never use enough tomato juice to justify that effort. I’ve learned to be honest with myself and stick to things that I know I’ll use.
  5. If you’re working with your own garden, learn to be flexible. My plants’ production varies week to week (including how much damage the birds inflict). So, while I was hoping for 14 pounds for crushed tomatoes this week, I only ended up with 8 pounds. I always have 3-6 recipes on deck that vary in their requirements. By planning for a few contingencies, I can make the most with what I have.

As much as I’m not doing cartwheels at the thought of an steamy afternoon in the kitchen, I’ll keep at it. There really is something nourishing about caring for the harvest that started way back in January.