Saving the Season

Tarragon Cucumber Pickles

Ladies and gentlemen, I have canned. It was a hot, sticky, dirty dish producing business. However, I have two lovely sealed jars of apricot butter waiting for my use some time this fall or winter. It better be this fall or winter, because I did not go through the processing step and hope that I kept everything clean enough to avoid botulism for awhile.

I come from people who can and I don’t know how they did it especially since I imagine most of it happened during a Midwestern August. My mother grew up on a farm and now can preserve with one arm tied behind her back. Leave her alone in a kitchen with some boxes of fruit and before you know it there are popping jars of jam cooling on the counter. I’m hoping my experience will go a little smoother with time but here is what I did.

I was digging through my pile of New York Times recipes and came across an article on apricots. I love apricots and they are vastly underappreciated and have a fleeting season. Other stone fruits seem to be around all year. I see peaches and plums practically year round (not that they are any good). But the lowly apricot makes a brief appearance. There are apricot trees all over Santa Fe and their blossoms are a thing of beauty. However, our standard late frosts usually destroy all blossoms and chance of a good crop. But they had good luck somewhere nearby and they were available at a decent price at one of my local food emporiums. I bought four pounds and had big plans.

Preparing the apricots is easy. I just washed, halved and pitted them and tossed them in a BIG pot. I put in some water to ease in the cooking process but still ended up with a big burn spot on the bottom of my pot. Perhaps I didn’t stir enough. I let the apricots cook for an hour with intermittent stirring and smooshing of apricots. At the hour mark everything looked fairly broken down and I carefully spooned it in to the food processor and pureed skipping the food mill step, as instructed in the recipe, because I don’t have a food mill. The puree went into a non-burny pot with sugar and half a vanilla bean. I promptly put a splatter screen on top and was glad I did. When it really got going, the hot puree was unpleasant to stir due to the boiling hot fruit splatter. I let it boil vigorously for 15 or so minutes to boil it down and did the refrigerator test. I can’t spackle with it but I did achieve a decent density. I must admit my patience was wearing thin at this point. Also Mr. Husband had ordered pizza to relieve me of dinner making so I could do this crazy project and the food had arrived. Also, I got great new magazines in the mail that day, and, and…I was essentially a victim of modern society.

While a boiling hot pot of apricot butter is terribly exciting, there is the second phase of canning—the preparing of the jars. I might ask for an autoclave for Christmas. I sterilized four pint jars with hope in my heart and added the lids to the water once the jars had boiled for a bit. They all simmered away while I messed with the apricots.

Then the moment of truth came. I pulled jars out of the water and drained them as best I could without pouring boiling water all over myself. Then they got put on a cooling rack and as quickly and neatly as I could I spooned in the hot apricot butter. I wiped off the rims, put on the lids and screwed down the bands. Then I stood back and admired my bounty of 2 ½ pints of apricot butter. About fifteen minutes later, the lids on the full jars popped and I felt like I had accomplished something. They cooled overnight and I was able to handle the jars the next day and wipe off more splatter on the outside. The full and sealed jars are waiting in the pantry and being admired.

All in all, I would recommend canning for its pioneer living aspects. In that same vein, I have been freezing summer fruit and trying some other easier preserving projects. If you want to avoid the sterilizing and processing parts of canning, I strongly recommend projects involving other wonderful preservatives: vinegar and alcohol. I made some quick pickles a few weeks ago and they are just great. Also I pitted a goodly quantity of cherries and made brandied cherries. They have been macerating for a few days and are ready for a preview at any time. Their only downside is the need for refrigeration. I could see myself easily filling up the refrigerator with jars of various goodies but then where would we put the beer.

For your cooking pleasure:

Apricot Butter

Tarragon Cucumber Pickles

Spiced Brandied Cherries

Saving the season


Food Mill

I have canning envy. I also have a spare food mill. It's beat up, and possibly a bit rusty, but it's yours if you want it.

Must have room for beer

We definitely need to have room in the fridge for beer! I guess that's one more vote in favor of canning.