Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Last Canning Class, but Not the Last of the Canning!

Saturday was my last in a series of three canning classes, this one covering jam and applesauce/apple butter. Unfortunately, I thought we were going to go out with a sad whimper rather than a big bang. I had a terrible morning trying to get everything ready to haul into town, and I realized at the last minute that I was out of dry pectin. So even though I was already running late, I had to squeeze in a stop at Aubuchon Hardware to buy the very last box of pectin on the shelf (whew!). Then when I got to school, someone in his or her infinite wisdom had unplugged the refrigerator! So the first student to arrive found me stomping around and using highly inappropriate language. But the thing that nearly reduced me to tears was getting the whole tomato/apple press set up only to realize that I left the crank handle at home! Mind you, I live a half hour away, so running to Sciota and back was out of the question. But I had to do something, as I didn't even bring peelers or a masher to do the apples "old school." So I left poor Cindy from Continuing Ed. to hold down the fort, and I raced back down the hill, back to the hardware store to buy some emergency supplies. As I passed the subdivision known as Cliff Haven, I spied my friends Jen and Angela's house and had a flash of brilliance. Angela makes homemade applesauce every year--surely she would have a food mill or at least a peeler and a masher that I could borrow? And indeed, I was able to nab a pristine Foley food mill, and my class was saved!

We made applesauce with a hint of cinnamon, as well as the legendary blueberry-lime jam. I also took them each a jar of apple butter, since we didn't have time to cook it down in class. I used the wonderful recipe from last year, but I made two changes. One, I cut back on some of the sugars and swapped out some Grade B maple syrup, making it Maple Apple Butter. YUM! And instead of reducing it on the stove top and having to deal with all those painful and messy volcanic eruptions, I used my crock pot instead. I started with it on low and the lid vented, but after leaving it to do its thing overnight and it had barely changed by morning, I took the lid off and cranked it up to high until I got home that evening. Despite the fact that I had covered all surrounding surfaces with towels just in case, there was no spattering at all! That is an excellent tip for all you apple butter fans out there. In fact, I may have to make another batch or two, as one of the nice ladies from class brought us each a bushel of apples from her own trees! I am now up to my eyebrows in apples! Ah...the blessings of excess in the North Country. (Am I making anyone jealous from non-apple-bearing regions? Tee hee.)

Anyway...while our jars were processing, we sampled the maple apple butter that I brought and the little bit of leftover blueberry jam from the pot that wasn't enough to make another full jar. Of course, we needed something yummy to spread the preserves on, so that morning before class, I made some excellent scones from the Joy of Baking's website. I made them plain, so that we could really taste the jam and the apple butter, but I already have a vision of a lemon poppy seed version using this recipe as a base:

Cream Scones
Joy of Baking)

2 cups (280 grams) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated white sugar
2 teaspoons (10 grams) baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup (76 grams) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup (120 ml) heavy cream

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) and place the rack in the middle of the oven. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper (or use a Silpat).

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Cut the butter into small pieces and blend into the flour mixture with a pastry blender or two knives. The mixture should look like coarse crumbs. In a small measuring cup combine the cream, beaten egg and vanilla. Add this mixture to the flour mixture. Stir just until combined. Do not over mix.

Knead dough gently on a lightly floured surface. Roll or pat the dough into a circle that is about 7 inches (18 cm) round. Then, you may either cut the circle diagonally four times to make eight wedges, or using a 2 1/2 inch (6.5 cm) round cookie cutter, cut the dough into rounds. Place the scones on the prepared cookie sheet, spacing a few inches apart. Brush the tops of the scones with a little egg wash (an egg beaten with a little cream). This helps to brown the tops of the scones during baking. You may also wish to sprinkle the tops with a little sugar for some sparkle and crunch.

Bake for about 15 - 18 minutes or until nicely browned and a toothpick inserted into the center of a scone comes out clean. Remove from oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool. Serve with Devon cream or softly whipped cream and your favorite jam.

You might think after three straight weekends of canning classes that I would be OVER any preserving projects for awhile, but you would be quite mistaken. In fact, being around enthusiastic canners only fans the flames of my desire to put up more little jars of deliciousness. And despite our crisp weather, there hasn't been a hard freeze yet (knock wood), and my garden continues to bear. On Sunday, I went out and harvested a few pounds of summer squashes from which I made the most delicious squash chutney! The recipe was actually not all that different from the beloved zucchini relish, but this has an Asian flair with the addition of crystallized ginger. Like all pickle recipes, it will not reach its full flavor for another month or two, but the tidbits that I tasted as I went along were outstanding! I followed the recipe pretty carefully, as you must when canning, but I did amp up the heat quite a bit, and added some garlic and extra spices (cutting back by one carrot to compensate for the addition of low-acid ingredients). Oh, and most importantly, I processed the final product in a hot water bath for ten minutes as a safety precaution. (NO OPEN KETTLE! I don't care if your grandma never did kill anyone--it's just not safe!) If you still have squash coming out of your garden, this is an excellent and savory way to use them up.

Squash Chutney
(Source: Preserving by Oded Schwartz, DK Publishing, 1996)

2 pounds summer squash, peeled, cored and cut into 1-inch cubes (I used a mix of zucchini and yellow crookneck)
2 tablespoons canning salt
2 large onions, coarsely chopped
about 5 carrots, grated (cut back by one carrot if you add the garlic and extra peppers)
3 1/2 ounces crystallized ginger, coarsely chopped
1-2 fresh red chilies, finely chopped (I used one red cayenne and a few super chilies!)
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced, optional
2 tablespoons mustard seed
1 tablespoon ground turmeric
1 tablespoon celery seed, optional
1 tablespoon coriander, optional
1 teaspoon black pepper, optional
3 cups cider vinegar
1 cup sugar (I used half white and half brown sugar)

Put the squash in a colander and sprinkle with half the salt. Let stand for one hour. Rinse and dry. Put in a non-corrosive saucepan with all the ingredients, except the sugar and remaining salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 25 minutes, or until the vegetables are just soft.

Add the sugar and salt and simmer for 1 to 1 1/4 hours, until most of the liquid evaporates and the chutney is thick. Ladle into hot jars, then process in a boiling water bath (10 minutes for half-pints, 15 minutes for pints). It will be ready in one to two months.

Makes about 3 pints

Even after cranking out nine jars of chutney, I still had the energy and drive to make myself a special treat. Of course, by that point, I was looking for something fairly easy, and I found a scrumptious-looking toffee bar recipe made with sweetened condensed milk on Eagle Brand's website. The resulting cookies taste a lot like seven-layer or magic cookie bars but without the coconut that offends me. The only change I made to the recipe was to add a little salt to counter the sweetness, and to reverse the nut-to-chocolate chip ratio in favor of more nuts (as is my way). These are really excellent, but unless you're baking for a crowd, you might want to halve the recipe and use an 8x8 pan. I made the mistake of preparing a full batch in a 9x13 pan, and that just yields TOO many, as each piece is very rich and filling. But no problem--I will take most of them to my friends Tom and June's house tonight to enjoy as we watch the second round of presidential debates. I'm sure they will be consumed readily and happily as we root for Mr. Obama! ("Yes, we can! Yes, we can!")

Chocolate Chip Toffee Bars
Eagle Brand's website)

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
good pinch of salt, optional (I think all the sweetness needs a little salt for balance)
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter
1 egg, slightly beaten
2 cups (12 ounces) semi-sweet chocolate chips, divided (I reduced this to 1 1/2 cups total)
1 cup coarsely chopped nuts (I increased this to 1 1/2 cups)
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk (NOT evaporated milk)
1 3/4 cups (10 ounces) toffee bits, divided

Preheat oven to 350°F. In large bowl, stir together flour and sugar. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add egg; mix well.

Stir in 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips and nuts. Reserve 1 1/2 cups mixture. Press remaining crumb mixture onto bottom of 13x9-inch greased (or sprayed) baking pan. Bake ten minutes.

Pour sweetened condensed milk evenly over crust; top with 1 1/2 cups toffee bits. Sprinkle reserved crumb mixture and remaining 1/2 cup chocolate chips over top. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup toffee bits. Cool completely. Cut into bars. Store leftovers covered.


Anonymous said...

Gina, I just wanted to let you know that I had a good time in your canning classes. Maybe next time we can have some freezing /canning classes. See you around campus.

Randi said...

If I didnt live so dang far away, I would have taken your class!!

You dont like coconut? I love it and would add it to everything if I could : )

Just the Right Size said...

Gina, you're such a tease! Go ahead with all your Northern apples; we don't want any!!! :-)


I've been making apple butter in my crockpot for years! Love it, as I don't get hit with all those apple butter volcanoes that spurt out on the stovetop.

I add 21 Kraft caramels (the small square ones) to my apple butter about halfway through the cooking process and make Caramel Apple Butter. I know SOME people on the Harvest Forum have a cow about this, but I've been doing it for years with no problems. I'm still alive! Add all the usual spices and it is divine!

Anonymous said...

Perhaps it is YOU that offends the coconut - what say you, Bottom?