Sunday, December 23, 2007

A little winter break canning...

I know, I know. I vowed that I was done with canning and preserving for the season. (Never believe a canner when they say this.) But I still had seven quinces sitting on a shelf in the front room from October(!) that needed my attention. This is an amazing thing about quinces--they are SUCH long keepers, especially when your house is as cold as ours is! And as a bonus, while they hang about, they freshen the room with a heady, floral perfume. Nevertheless, one of the quinces had started to go bad, and I assumed that one bad one would spoil the whole bunch, as with their cousin, the apple, so it was (past) time to make some preserves. As luck would have it, I had exactly the amount called for in the trusty old Ball Blue Book recipe for quince preserves. I followed the recipe pretty closely (as is always advised in jam-making), other than adding two split vanilla beans to the simple syrup that you cook the fruit in initially to soften those rock-hard little suckers. (Indeed, even using a good knife, I was blistered after peeling, coring, and chopping the quinces.) I had a hunch that vanilla and pineapple quince would be a match made in heaven, and right I was! The resulting preserve was delicious, and would be ideal served with a sharp cheese (Spanish manchego is the traditional pairing) and some crackers. Moreover, the magic of quinces is how they start off white-fleshed with (greenish-) yellow skin, but become tawny as they cook, then pinkish, then red, to nearly a deep crimson. I tried to take a decent picture that would show off the gorgeous color, and I wanted to use a white backdrop, so I stuck a jar out in the snow that had accumulated on top of the barbecue grill. Tee hee. Pretty, huh? And quite festive during this holiday season!

Vanilla Bean Quince Preserves
(Source: adapted from Ball Blue Book)

Yield: 4 half-pints

7 cups quartered, peeled, cored quinces, about 3 pounds (I don't know whey they say to quarter them--I want preserves, not canned quinces, so I cut mine into about one-inch pieces*)
3 cups sugar
2 quarts water
2 vanilla beans, split

When preparing quinces, discard all gritty parts (also, be sure to keep the cut quinces in acidulated water as you prepare them for cooking--I used the juice of one lemon in a big bowl of cool water). Combine sugar and water in a large saucepot (I also added two split vanilla beans and the juiced halves of the aforementioned lemon). Boil 5 minutes. Fish out the vanilla pods and the lemon rinds, then add quinces; cook until fruit is transparent and syrup is almost to gelling point (be prepared for the long haul, as this takes from one to two hours!). As mixture thickens, stir frequently to prevent sticking. Remove from heat. Skim foam if necessary. Ladle hot preserves into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Adjust 2-piece caps. Process 15 minutes in a boiling water canner.

* At the end of the cooking time, when it had reached the jelling point, the quinces still weren't broken down enough to suit me, so I took my handy potato masher to them until they were more to my liking. It's a good tip.

Do you think that this is the end of my winter canning story? Think again! The other night, I was perusing the Garden Web Harvest Forum, as is my way, and I came across a nice little post about a novice canner who had shared some of her wares with the chef of a local restaurant, and how flattered she was when he praised her work. In the post, she mentioned that she had made something called "Peach Preserves for Cold Mornings." Isn't that the loveliest, most romantic name? It's credited to someone called Doris on the Harvest Forum, but a Google search seems to suggest that it was invented by a pepperhead's wife named Sharon Johnson. In any case, I had to make some right away. And it's just wonderful stuff--a beautiful orange color with just a little heat--like sunshine in a jar! As the name says, it's perfect for a cold winter's morning. Although I tried it first on crostini spread with homemade ricotta and a little dollop of the preserves on top--outstanding! Like the quince preserves, this is also made without commercial pectin, so it has a long cooking time to reach the set point. So these are good choices of things to make when you have some free time on your hands. I knew there was a reason that I hadn't sent my Christmas care packages out yet! I know one fabulous friend in Chicago, a heat-lover by nature, who is going to go over the moon for these beautiful, spicy preserves. (Holla, Phillip!) Here's the recipe:

Peach Preserves for Cold Mornings
(Source: Garden Web's Harvest Forum)

3 pounds ripe peaches, peeled and quartered (fresh are best, of course, but I used sliced, frozen)
1/2 medium-size orange, quartered and seeded (oops--I used one entire small orange, sliced, and I wouldn't change that mistake!)
2 red savina habaneros, seeds and all (Um, is this person suicidal? I like hot things, but I only used one seeded orange habanero and then one seeded jalapeno--it made a few green bits floating around in there, but it was the perfect level of heat for me)
4 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
3/4 cup honey, the lightest, mildest you can find

Combine peaches, sugar, and honey in a large, heavy-bottomed pot; stir well. Cover and let stand 45 minutes. Position knife blade in food processor bowl; add orange quarters and chiles. Process until finely chopped, stopping once to scrape down sides. Place orange, chiles, and an equal amount of water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes or until orange rind is tender.

Bring peach mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to medium-high, and cook, uncovered, 15 minutes, stirring often. Add orange mixture. Bring to a boil; cook, uncovered, 20 to 25 minutes or until candy thermometer registers 221 degrees, stirring often (this took 30 minutes for me, and I used my potato masher again to break up the fruit like I like it). Remove from heat; stir in almond extract. Skim off foam with a metal spoon. Quickly pour hot mixture into hot jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace; wipe jar rims. Cover at once with metal lids, and screw on bands. Process jars in boiling-water bath 10 minutes.

Side note: I took this picture on my kitchen counter where the jars were cooling. I couldn't have taken another picture outside in the snow if I wanted to. What a difference a day makes! It's 40 degrees today (on Christmas Eve Eve), and now there's no snow on the BBQ grill or the patio, for that matter. It's raining, and the wind is blowing like gangbusters. This is typical weather for April! BIZARRE!

Follow-up idea (12/24): I was trying to figure out what to do for dinner last night when I ran across this Rachael Ray recipe via Joe's blog. I thought that it might be delicious using the spicy peach preserves instead of the apricot that the original recipe calls for, and indeed, it was! I only made two other changes: I omitted the honey (it was plenty sweet enough without) and I added a teaspoon or two of Worcestershire sauce. An excellent meal, and surprisingly, really did take only 30 minutes to make! Another good idea for this busy holiday time--and a great recipe to use some of the Peach Preserves for Cold Mornings, too!

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