Sunday, August 07, 2005

Wait, that's not knitting!

Brandied Cherries

Lately, a few other activities have been taking up some of the time that I might ordinarily devote to knitting. Every year for the last three summers, around this general time, the madness kicks in, and I become convinced that canning is a good idea. I don't know what came over me two years ago, but I was suddenly compelled to learn to can food, and so I taught myself out of a book. The first year I made mango chutney, spicy tomato chutney, and strawberry jam. All in one day. One day in which I stayed up until 3 AM finishing, and ended up setting off the carbon monoxide detector because the gas stove had been going continuously for so long. I get kind of obsessive like that...

The mango chutney was the big hit of that round of canning, and I made another big batch last summer. (You can see pics here.) I also tried to invent my own peach/tomato salsa recipe, because I LOVE fresh peach/tomato salsa, but after reading many strict admonitions about how dangerous it was to invent your own recipe for canning, I grew paranoid and added a lot of extra lemon juice to ensure it was acidic enough, and it turned out rather boring and lemony. I did get a pressure cooker for my birthday last year, so now that I can preserve such things without having to worry about acidity levels, maybe I'll try again. Whenever I figure out how to use the pressure cooker, that is.

Anyway, this year I became utterly convinced that I needed to can stuff with cherries. Thus began a series of canning episodes, three so far. First off were brandied cherries, made from sweet Bing cherries -- and you don't know what a good time is until you've pitted six pounds of cherries by hand. That's the thing about canning. It's so labor intensive that you have to develop a bit of amnesia from the last time before you're willing to undertake it again. I can, at least, say that I am a lot faster about the whole business now. In the past, I've estimated how long it will take, and it inevitably took me three times longer than my estimation.

My second batch this year was a batch of spiced cherries -- a vinegar based concoction, kind of like chutney. And the third round resulted in cherry jam. Hooray for cherry jam! The last two batches were from a huge bucket of pitted sour cherries that I bought direct from the orchard where they were grown. The owners had a big pitting machine in their garage, and it was all on the honor system -- drive up, take your massive bucket of cherries from the freezer, deposit a check or cash in their lock box, and go along your merry way. The only thing I wasn't crazy about was that they had them in a sugar solution, but I suppose that was to maintain the color. However, despite being frozen and in a bucket, they really were pretty darn fresh, and the fact that they were already pitted was just brilliant -- I just washed the sugar off and threw the recipes together. Nice.

I will probably do some more canning this month, after I get back from my week long business trip, on which I leave tomorrow. I bought a couple more boxes of pectin, so I think I'll make a couple more batches of jam, at least. And I probably should do some more mango chutney -- that stuff is just the best. In fact, if you can, or want to take up canning, in addition to the Ball Blue Book of Preserving, which is an absolute must, I also recommend picking up a copy of Home Made, Best Made, which includes the mango chutney recipe and lots of other great stuff.

Oh, and don't take this blog entry, or any other informal, loosely-defined description of canning as direction or advice. Canning is serious business, and you should carefully read and follow all the USDA approved canning procedures, because a healthy dose of paranoia will keep you from, you know, killing yourself and all your friends with botulism or anything like that. But when you're careful and do it right, mmm,'s good stuff to open a jar of something you made in the summer in the dead of winter.

In case you have any interest, I did put together a little slide show of canning the brandied cherries, and you can find it here.