Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Reflections on Small-Batch Canning

Why small-batch? There are many reasons why this type of canning has become popular, but for me it’s all about breaking my love for food projects into manageable units. I have memories of watching my mom making jams and jellies on a huge scale, but I don’t possess either the space or the saint-like perseverance to devote to canning on that level. This is only my second year to can on my own, so I’m also still a bit nervous about the whole process. That’s probably an understatement.

I’m neurotic about canning procedure.

I admit it. I worry. I check and recheck (and recheck) directions.

I listen anxiously for each little “ping!” while the jars are cooling.

This means that I am a slow and cautious cook when it comes to putting food into jars, so preserving in small batches really works well for me.

Despite my anxiety over canning, I love the results.

Popping open a jar of yummy goodness in the middle of a dreary Oregon winter just makes me happy.

I was especially excited about canning this fall, because I received a fantastic gift from my in-laws: freshly picked fruit from their small, but productive, hundred-year-old orchard. They had an excellent apple and pear harvest this year and I was lucky enough share in both the labor of bringing in the fruit and the delicious rewards!

I started by turning a sack full of those apples (mixed with some I had purchased elsewhere) into five pints of applesauce. My daughter loves the stuff and I think Grandma and Grandpa’s apples make her like it even more. I like mine with minimal sugar and lots of spice - cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg - whatever I have on hand. The brilliant thing about making applesauce is that it’s very forgiving, which makes it perfect for anxious canners, like myself.

I also had several pounds of pears from their very large, very ancient Bartlett tree to work with. These became four half-pints of pear cardamom butter, using a recipe from Tart and Sweet. Only four half-pints, you might wonder? Yes. I was surprised as well, because I fervently adhered to the recipe, as is my nature to do, and the recipe promised seven half-pints. But my experience with fruit butters is that yields are approximate. The small amount I did end up with is delicious – sweet and spicy from the cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves with a hint of licorice, thanks to star anise pods, which I’d never cooked with before.  I have a feeling it will be delicious with some blue cheese on crackers this winter!

Although I feel like my autumn preserving efforts were modest at best, I was truly blessed by the experience of tramping out into the orchard and working with fruit that would be considered too imperfect for the grocery store, but made up for all of its superficial flaws in depth of flavor. Foraging a harvest from those gnarled and knobby trees, which have essentially been left in their wild, natural state, was a unique and rewarding experience.

Those old trees outdid themselves this year and we’ll be enjoying their bounty all through the winter. So much to be thankful for as we approach the end of the harvest season!

More inspiration & recipe tips: Craigslist Apples & Cardamom Apple Butter

Rebekah Pike is most happy with her nose in a book and enjoys making the most of her pint-sized, apartment kitchen. After leaving her job in media production to become a full-time mommy, she began exploring the sustainable living movement and reconnected with the back-to-the-earth ideals of her hippie parents. In 2005, her love of Oregon’s rugged outdoors led to a summer job as a camp counselor, where she met her husband, Darian. Most of their time is spent chasing after their two year old daughter, Ashlynn, and doing serious “research” at restaurants, coffee shops and markets around Portland.

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