Canning Pears

A while back, a friend of mine brought me a box of cooking pears from his neighbour’s tree, which was producing an overabundance. Not too long after that, he brought me a second box full. I’m told that these boxes of fruit kept appearing in front of his house under not-so-mysterious circumstances; apparently that neighbour was getting really tired of being beaned in the head by falling fruit. This week I finally had the chance to tackle this mass of pears. I’ve been cooking with them for over a month, but my rate of attrition was much too slow, and some of the fruit was starting to turn.

First I made a double batch of Cinnamon-Scented Parsnip Pear Jam, from page 407 of Preserving: The Canning and Freezing Guide for All Seasons by Pat Crocker (2011). As interesting as this combination appeared at first glance, I found the final result much too sweet; it uses twice as much sugar as fruit by volume, which is a very high ratio even by jam standards. It would still be nice on Dad’s Biscuits, fresh bread, or toast, but I guess I was hoping for more of a flavour punch given my success with this book’s carrot jam. However, I do agree with the book’s assessment that this jam, when mixed with a bit of orange juice, would probably make a lovely glaze in which roasted root veggies could be tossed.

I well and truly overestimated how much fruit & veg to prepare to make this recipe, even doubled; I honestly thought I’d be able to get at least a quadruple batch in, but with all of that sugar, my pots just weren’t big enough. So I had a whole bunch of peeled, cut up pears (left) and parsnips (right) after this attempt.

The parsnips became part of our dinner last night, roasted in the oven with a sprinkle of salt, pepper, rosemary, and olive oil. I served them with baked pork chops coated in dried onion soup mix, which is a dish from my childhood that I’ve been making a lot lately once I was reminded of it. It’s just so easy! I probably have enough parsnips left for another three dinners like this one, but I think that would get old fast. I’ll need to research another recipe.

For my next recipe, I took a chance and tried peeling my ginger with a spoon, which is a kitchen hack I’ve seen floating around the Web for a while. I was quite satisfied with how this worked, actually. Not all cooking hacks are worth your time, but I found that this was honestly easier than a veggie peeler or a knife, and it wasted much less of the root.

The next step was to break out the candy/deep fry thermometer and bring the next jam up to the jelling point. (As an aside, am I the only one who feels like they need a shield as their jam/jelly gets thicker and it starts spitting huge globs of boiling-hot sugar and juice out of the pot?) This time I made Spiced Pear Jam with Pineapple found on page 935 of the Joy of Cooking (2006 edition, Rombauer & Becker), or on the app.

I was much happier with this jam than the previous one. I could definitely taste the fruit, and it wasn’t too sweet (it has a much lower sugar-to-fruit ratio). I have to admit that I couldn’t really taste the pineapple; the citrus note is definitely the strongest part of this jam, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, although it does end up tasting more like a marmalade.

I probably still have enough chopped pears to make one more batch of jam. What kind should I make? I still haven’t decided. I have a lovely old recipe for pears poached in red wine and then canned, but that’s really intended for whole pears. These cooking pears needed to be chopped up to remove imperfections, so they’re sadly not really suitable to such a dish.

Crab Apple Jelly

A while back a friend of mine offered to let me pick crab apples from trees just outside of her back yard, on land that is owned by her community association. She has been picking apples from those trees for years in order to make crab apple jelly, as have a number of other neighbours who are inclined to make preserves. These totally wild, untended trees produce an overabundance of fruit every year, and the canners in the neighbourhood only make a tiny dent in that. I’d never made jelly before, but I figured sure, why not? I love cooking with ingredients that I can harvest locally, especially when that harvest is free!

The first thing that I realized is that making jelly is a lot more difficult than making jam. After washing all the tiny little apples and making sure to remove all leaves and stems, you have to cut them all in half. Sometimes the fruit can be wormy or rotten inside even though the outside is pristine, and cutting it in half means that you can check every single one. Then you have to cook the fruit, strain it through a jelly bag (being careful not to squeeze the bag so that the jelly will remain clear), boil the resulting juice along with sugar and any additional ingredients until set, and then finally can it.

After all that work, I was really happy that I liked the end result. Crab apple jelly is packed with tart flavour, even with all of the added sugar. I’m definitely going to make more next year. I’ll be sure to pick twice or even three times as much fruit. It’s not like the neighbourhood wildlife will miss the relatively small quantities that I will use.

One of the things that I was surprised about regarding crab apple jelly is how many of my preserving cookbooks don’t have a recipe for it. Not only that, but some of them don’t even consider crab apples to be a fruit worth canning. I find that odd because a) they’re very tasty, b) they are winter hardy in northern climes, and can even grow wild, and c) they’re often planted in orchards among the larger apple trees because it helps with pollination. They’re also a very popular ornamental tree, so it’s not like crab apples are hard to come by, either. The books that I have that included a crab apple jelly recipe are, in no particular order:

Joy of Cooking page 932, or on the app (Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker & Ethan Becker, 2006 edition)
Pickles & Preserves page 58 (Love Food, 2012)
The Complete Preserving Book page 92 (Canadian Living, 2012)
The Good Cook: Preserving page 94 (Time-Life Books, 1981)
Preserving page 166 (Oded Schwartz, 1996)

Although there are many variations when it comes to additional ingredients such as lemon juice, lime juice, or in one case hot peppers, all of the recipes seem to agree on a ratio of 1:1 of volume of strained juice to white sugar.

As an aside, if you’re interested in harvesting unused fruit from local sources and aren’t up to approaching homeowners/tenants on your own (although if you’re shy, a politely-worded letter is often well-received), you could volunteer for an organization here in Ottawa called Hidden Harvest. The group harvests fruits and nuts that would otherwise go to waste on public and private property. When the bounty is harvested, one quarter goes to the homeowner, one quarter goes to the volunteer harvesters, one quarter goes to the nearest food agency, and one quarter goes to Hidden Harvest. The portion kept by Hidden Harvest goes to their sponsors, who in turn help pay to run the organization. Last year alone the group harvested almost 4,500lbs of fruit and nuts, and donated almost 2,000lbs of that to charity.

In my case, I’m a homeowner whose apple tree drops hundreds of pounds of fruit every year, and I’d love to be able to have Hidden Harvest come and take most of the fruit away. I don’t need nearly so much. However, I’ll have to deal with that poor tree’s apple scab first. And my poor little pear tree‘s harvest of four pears this year isn’t worth volunteering. Perhaps when it grows a little bigger. Next year I’m seriously considering becoming a volunteer harvester, though. As for this year, I understand that apples with apple scab can actually make a better hard cider, so if any cider-makers want to clean the rest of the apples off of my tree, they’re welcome to them.

Maybe one of these days I should just buy/make a cider press.

Squash & Pear Casserole Recipe

For Thanksgiving dinner, my mom made a lovely squash casserole as part of the main meal. (You can see it on the bottom right hand side of the table in the last picture in the post linked above.) It was so good that I asked her to share the recipe with me.


My stab at this delicious casserole.

Mom sent me the link to The Spruce’s Butternut Squash and Apple Casserole With Crumb Topping recipe, but then she sent me a list of the changes she’d made that turned it into a significantly different dish.

Last night I tried Mom’s version, which has pears instead of apples (’cause that was what she had on hand), and includes walnuts for crunch (the best part of the dish in my opinion). The topping stays pretty much the same, but it really wasn’t very crumby. The photo in the Spruce recipe was obviously taken before the dish was baked. Rather, as the butter melts it carries the spices and sugar to ingredients at the bottom of the casserole. This doesn’t make it any less tasty (I’d venture to say that it actually enhances the flavour), but I’d hesitate to call it a “crumb”.


Squash & Pear Casserole served with pork chops with an onion soup mix glaze.

Squash & Pear Casserole
Serves 4-6

Preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C).
Peel, remove guts and seeds, and cut into bite-sized pieces:
2 1/2 lbs butternut squash (approx. 1 medium)*
Core and cut into bite-sized pieces:
3 green pears
Place squash and pear pieces in a casserole dish that fits these ingredients with a bit of room to spare. Stir to mix.
Sprinkle over the mixture:
1/2 cup chopped walnuts**
In a separate bowl, mix together:
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
To the sugar and spice mixture add:
1/4 cup chilled butter***
Using two knives or a pastry knife, cut the butter into the sugar and spice mixture until the pieces of butter are a roughly even size, about the size of a pea.
Sprinkle butter and spice mixture over the contents of the casserole dish.
Bake, covered, for 50 to 60 minutes****, or until the squash is easily pierced with a fork.
Serve using a slotted spoon so that the cooking juices are left behind in the casserole dish.

*This casserole would work equally well with squash of a similar texture such as acorn squash or pumpkin.
**Chopped pecans may be substituted for chopped walnuts.
***Margarine may be substituted to make this dish vegan/vegetarian. However, the margarine has to be the kind that is hard when cold, or it will not cut into the sugar & spice mixture properly.
****This dish may be prepped ahead of time, refrigerated overnight, and then baked just prior to serving. If the dish is still cold from the refrigerator, allow for an additional 15 to 20 minutes of cooking time.

Cumberland Farmers’ Market — Harvest Market

Not this past Sunday but the Sunday before (October 1st), I headed out to the Cumberland Village Heritage Museum for the Harvest Market. This farmers’ market is usually held on Saturdays from mid-June to mid-September in front of the R.J. Kennedy Community Centre. This was a special, end-of-season event, though, so it was held at a larger, more interesting venue. As a bonus, admission to the museum was free! My kids were thrilled, especially Thing 1, who had visited the museum with her class and was excited to show it all to her little sister. My husband headed with the children toward the heritage and reproduction buildings from the 1920’s and 30’s (with special attention paid by the girls to the farm animals). I, on the other hand, got a chance to enjoy the beautiful weather and peruse the market for a short time on my own, which was lovely.

The aisles were teeming with shoppers:

The stalls, as always, featured interesting locally-made seasonal items, arts, crafts, and food:

In the top right background of the photo above, there was a vendor with really fantastic bibbed kitchen aprons made from vintage patterns. Honestly, they looked more like dresses than most of my actual dresses! I really wish I’d picked one up, or at least taken their card so I could find out where they’re going to be for the Christmas season. I’ve actually started using aprons lately to save my clothes, and it would be nice to have a pretty one.

Of course, then there was the produce:


I like the use of an old wicker papasan chair frame as a giant display basket.

I came home with one of the pumpkins from the above display, as well as an ambidextrous bow bread knife for easier slicing of my homemade bread. The pumpkin was turned into pumpkin pie, pumpkin tarts, and pumpkin bread for Thanksgiving this past weekend. I can’t think of a better end for local produce.

The Cumberland Farmers’ Market season is now over, but still to come is the annual Christmas Market on Saturday, December 2nd from 9:00am to 4:00pm. This market will be held at four locations in Cumberland (I’m guessing so that all of the vendors can set up indoors): 1115 Dunning Road, 2620 Market Street, 2557 Old Montreal Road, and 2655 Old Montreal Road. If I’m lucky, maybe the vendor with the lovely vintage-style aprons will be there!

Canadian Thanksgiving

Although today is technically Thanksgiving here in Canada, my family celebrated yesterday. I know that a lot of other people I know hereabouts do the same. Having Thanksgiving dinner on Sunday combines the tradition of a Sunday family dinner with the practical consideration of a stat holiday on the Monday. This means that out-of-town guests can travel in on the Friday night or Saturday, then go back home on the Monday, i.e. no traveling the day of celebrations and no need for most to miss any work.

Here in Canada, Thanksgiving is mostly a secular harvest festival, although some religions do incorporate thanks for a bountiful harvest into their liturgical calendar. Unlike Americans, we don’t have a tradition of the First Thanksgiving (our history is markedly different than our southern neighbours, with our first European settlers being predominantly explorers, hunters, and trappers). We also celebrate this holiday much earlier, i.e. the second Monday in October instead of the fourth Thursday in November. We used to celebrate Thanksgiving later in the season, but the earlier date keeps it from conflicting with Remembrance Day (November 11th) and, on a practical note about climate, is also when the bulk of the harvest has been brought in this far (and farther) north. Heck, the Prairies often see snow as early as September.

I started cooking the dishes that I was going to bring to Thanksgiving dinner on Saturday. I began with pumpkin pie, which was a combination of the Purity Pastry crust from page 73 of the Purity Cookbook (Elizabeth Driver, 2001 edition) and the Pumpkin or Squash Pie filling on page 686 of the Joy of Cooking (Irma S. Rombauer & Marion Rombauer Becker & Ethan Becker, 2006 edition). The filling pulled away from the crust since I had to store the pie in the refrigerator overnight, but it still tasted just fine. Due to food sensitivities in the family, I substituted coconut milk for the heavy cream/evaporated milk specified in the filling recipe. I have done this for years now, and I find that it tastes almost identical to using cow’s milk. That being said, I’ve learned that it takes much longer for the filling to set this way. To compensate, I don’t glaze the crust, as it causes it to burn over the long cooking time. Also, I put the pie plate on a baking sheet when I put it in the oven (something I do when making any type of pie), which both helps protect the bottom crust from burning and keeps any filling overflow from burning onto the bottom of my oven.

I cooked a small pumpkin to make the pumpkin pie instead of using canned (I like the flavour better that way), and I had some leftovers squash puree that needed to be used up, so I made Pumpkin Bread (page 628, Joy of Cooking) as well. I made this quick bread loaf with coarsely chopped pecans and golden raisins, as that’s what I happened to have in the pantry. It’s a rather lovely, dense loaf, as this kind of bread tends to be, and it smells divine. Unfortunately, since there are nuts in it, I won’t be able to send it to school as part of lunch for my girls in the upcoming week.

Since I had the time (which I never seem to when I’m carving Jack-o-lanterns for Halloween), I saved the pumpkin seeds and roasted them in the oven with a bit of olive oil and salt. These are one of my favourite fall snacks, and the smell of them cooking takes me right back to my childhood.

OF course, no family dinner around here would be complete without a batch of Nan’s Pan Rolls. It’s especially fitting this time of year, since Nan passed away four years ago this weekend. Making one of her signature dishes is a fitting way to remember her, I think.

This was Thanksgiving dinner at my parents’ place (bottom to top): Yorkshire pudding, squash & pear casserole, roast turkey, gravy, bread stuffing, pan rolls, Brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes, and steamed asparagus. This may seems like a huge spread, with all of that food for only six of us. However, traditionally you only have a little of each dish at the actual dinner, which is more than enough to feed you to bursting, and then you eat leftovers for the following week. Generally it’s an informal recreation of the dinner on day 2, then (depending on the size of the bird) some kind of casserole on day 3, then hot turkey sandwiches on day 4, then turkey soup or stew on day 5, and so on.

So happy Thanksgiving to all Canadians, and a happy Thanksgiving in advance to our American neighbours!

Harvest Garden Bread Recipe

Last week Thing 1 and I tried our hands at making Confetti Bread (page 67 of The Complete Guide to Bread Machine Baking from Better Homes and Gardens (1999)). While in general I really like this book and I have found its recipes to be quite reliable, this loaf did not turn out as planned. It looked like this:


Failed Confetti Bread

The poor, sad thing just didn’t rise. The loaf was much too dense and wasn’t even baked the whole way through. The cookbook even warns that you might have to add additional flour to the dough after the first knead (which I did), and it still fell flat. I think that this is because a bread machine recipe just can’t predict the moisture content of the vegetables, and bread machines need very precise measurements because they just can’t compensate for change on the fly.

However, the loaf smelled absolutely delicious when it was baking, and the flavour of the bread backed up that smell. Well, except for the red pepper part, but that’s probably just my preference (I’m not a real fan of sweet peppers). I was inspired to try to create a similar loaf by hand to get all of those flavours that I liked, but I wanted it to be a nice fluffy loaf with a crisp crust. As a bonus, this recipe includes both zucchini and carrots, which many gardeners have an overabundance of this time of year. (If you don’t garden, these veggies are also cheap in stores in the fall.) I was very happy with the result.


Successful Harvest Garden Bread

So here’s the recipe:

Harvest Garden Bread
Yields one loaf

Line two small bowls with paper towel or clean dish towels.
Grate separately:
3/4 cups carrots
2/3 cups zucchini
Place the carrots into one bowl and the zucchini into the other. Leave them in the bowls so that the towels absorb excess moisture while you perform the next steps.
In a large bowl, mix together:
1 cup warm water
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 egg yolk
1/4 cup finely sliced green onions OR chives
In another large bowl, mix together:
4 cups all-purpose white flour
1 1/2 tsp white sugar
1 tsp salt
3/4 tsp dried thyme OR 2 1/4 tsp minced fresh thyme
2 tsp quick-rise instant yeast
Squeeze the zucchini and the carrots in their towels to remove excess moisture. Add the vegetables to the bowl containing the liquids and stir.
Gradually mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. When mixture becomes too difficult to stir with a spoon, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and continue to incorporate the ingredients by kneading.

Once all ingredients have been kneaded in, the dough may be too moist, sticking to both your hands and the kneading surface. If so, you may need to gradually add:
up to 1/2 cup all-purpose white flour
This additional flour will compensate for the moisture of your vegetables. If the dough is still too sticky once the additional flour has been kneaded in, continue to add flour one tablespoonful at a time until the desired consistency is reached.

Oil a large mixing bowl. Form the dough into a ball and place it in the bowl. Cover the bowl with a clean, damp tea towel. Place the bowl in a warm, dry area with no drafts. Allow the dough to rise until double, about 2 hours.

Punch down the dough. Grease a 9.5″ X 5.5″ loaf pan. (A slightly smaller loaf pan may be used, but you will end up with a more mushroom-shaped loaf.) Shape the dough into a loaf to fit the bottom of the pan. Cover the pan with a clean, damp tea towel and allow to rise again until double, about 1 hour.

Preheat your oven to 400ºF (204ºC).
While oven is preheating, mix together:
1 egg white
1 Tbsp cold water
Brush the top of the dough evenly with the egg & water mixture to create a glaze.
Bake loaf for 30 to 40 minutes, until top of loaf is lightly browned and the loaf sounds hollow when removed from the pan and tapped on the bottom.

If you try out this recipe, I’d love it if you’d leave a comment and let me know what you think! And if you make any changes or if you find any errors, I’d love to know that too.

Harvest

Even though the days have been lovely, it is now the beginning of October, so the nights are getting colder and there is often the threat of frost. This means it’s time to bring in the harvest. I dug up about half of my garden last week, and it wasn’t all mutant carrots!

Please excuse the long grass. My plants were hanging over the sides of the wooden garden border, so I figured I should pull them all up before mowing.

I picked the last of the hot peppers and dug up the few shallots that survived the season. For some reason, most of my shallots didn’t sprout this year. I will freeze the hot peppers with the intention of making hot sauce at a later date.

I tried growing lemongrass this year, which was very pretty but didn’t yield a huge amount of edible parts. It’s supposedly a perennial, but the root ball may not survive the harsh Canadian winter. We shall see if it sprouts in the spring.

I’m still harvesting ripe cherry tomatoes, much to my surprise. Last week’s heat wave meant that the plants haven’t started to die down as much as usual by this time of year.

I had a total yield of about 30lbs of Prince of Orange potatoes. These potatoes are apparently a pretty new breed. They have reddish skins and a dark yellow interior (actually pretty close to my Creampak carrots when cooked). They also have a stronger flavour than traditional white-fleshed potatoes, which I really like. I may plant these again next year, or may be I’ll alternate with Violet Queens, which have purple skins and flesh. I figure hey, if I’m going to grow it myself, why be satisfied with the few varieties that are available at the average grocery store?