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.

The Last of the Summer Tomatoes

I feel like I’ve spent all of my time over the last few weeks canning. One thing in my garden will become ripe all at the same time, meaning that I have to either eat or can it all (generally a combination of both) before it goes bad. Most of the food that I grow will go bad faster than I can eat it, with the exception of my potatoes and shallots, which have a great shelf life if kept in a cool, dark place.


Tomatoes in the sink being washed.

The biggest issue for about a week was my tomatoes, because we were starting to get the occasional frost at night. It was only a light frost and the damage was primarily to the plant’s inedible leaves, but here those light frosts are a warning of deeply freezing night temperatures coming soon, so they must not be ignored. I pulled out all of my tomato plants and picked every single fruit, whether they were ripe or not. Actually, most of what was left was green, but I didn’t mind too much since I have lots of dishes that work well with green tomatoes.

I separated the ripe tomatoes from the green ones, and made my last batch of homegrown Blender Salsa until next year. (The recipe can be found on page 92 of Preserving by the Pint: Quick Seasonal Canning for Small Spaces (Marisa McClellan, 2014).) I also included tomatoes from a friend’s garden in this batch, but I still only ended up with about two litres of the end product.

I thawed some of the rhubarb from earlier in the season, and I cooked up about 1.5L of Tomato-Rhubarb Chutney (page 132, You Can Can: A Guide to Canning, Preserving, and Pickling from Better Homes and Gardens (2010)). This chutney was a big hit with my in-laws last year, so I knew I had to make some more.

I really hope that I got the recipe right for this last one, because I made almost five litres of it. I got a huge number of compliments last time I made Green Tomato Chutney, and many requests that I make more. I would have done so immediately, but it calls for green tomatoes and they’re really only available at a very specific time of year. Imported or hothouse tomatoes are never sold green around here. The thing is, the last time I made this preserve was before I started recording my cooking in this blog, and I didn’t write down what book the recipe came from. (I can’t tell you how useful this blog has been for keeping track of what I made, when, with what recipe, and with what changes. The fact that it’s searchable has made my life so much easier.)

This year, when trying to recreate my success, I realized that I own five different preserving cookbooks with five slightly different versions of this recipe — and that’s without going into any of my “big fat cookbooks that tell you everything about everything”, as they call them in the I Hate to Cook Book. At any rate, I think I found the correct recipe, since it’s the only one in my library that calls for golden raisins, and I distinctly remember putting golden raisins in the last batch. The Green Tomato Chutney recipe that I used can be found on page 208 of The Canadian Living Complete Preserving Book (2012). I have my fingers crossed that I remembered correctly and that it will be enjoyed as much as the previous batch!

Carrot Jam

I’ve been looking for creative ways to preserve the carrots from my garden, since there are only so many carrot-based dishes that I can eat in a row. Yes, I could freeze some of them, but my freezer is getting awfully full of soups and sauces and broths (this happens every autumn), so something shelf-stable is what the doctor ordered. I also wanted a recipe that disguised the unusual shapes of my homegrown carrots (which I combined with store-bought orange ones for a bit of visual interest), since I know that ugly food tends to be eaten less enthusiastically than pretty food, even if it tastes identical.

So I browsed through my cookbooks and found a recipe for Carrot Jam on page 206 of Preserving by Pat Crocker (2011). I had never heard of carrot jam before, but there’s a similar recipe for Carrot Orange Marmalade on page 142 of Prizewinning Preserves by Yvonne Tremblay (2001), which apparently earned a red ribbon for best marmalade at the 2000 Royal Agricultural Winter Fair. I guess it can’t be that unheard of. However, the Prizewinning Preserves marmalade was missing the intriguing spices of Preserving‘s carrot jam, which cinched my decision to make the latter recipe.

Preserving suggests letting the jars sit for a few weeks before opening for best flavour, but the cooking jam smelled so darned good that I opened up my first jar the very next day. I am so glad that I did. I baked up a quick batch of Dad’s Biscuits upon which to spread the jam, and then I was in seventh heaven. If these preserves get even better with age, I can’t imagine how delicious they will be. Suggested uses for this jam are as follows (Preserves, page 207):

Carrot jam can be used as any other fruit jam, but I particularly like it on quick bread nut loaves and with savoury meat pies or wraps. Use it as a glaze for cooked vegetables: toss grilled or steamed vegetables in up to 1 cup (250mL) of the jam while hot, just before serving. This is also a flavourful topping for fresh yogurt, or you can add a couple of tablespoons (25mL) to a Vinaigrette Dressing or Salsa Verde.

I can’t wait to try carrot jam in all of these ways! I think it would also make a lovely glaze for roast pork or chicken. I love this recipe so much that I think I will grow carrots again next year specifically to make them into this jam. Maybe I’ll even grow those red and/or purple heirloom carrots just so that the jam is even more visually interesting.

Dealing With the Autumn Harvest

Yesterday I spent most of the day and well into the evening trying to use up some of the produce from my garden before it went bad. This time of year can be a real challenge when everything needs to be harvested, cleaned, prepared, and often canned or frozen all at once. And I haven’t even started dealing with my root vegetables, which are starting to pop out of the soil they’re getting so big!

I harvested the four pears that were growing on my tiny little pear tree. The three on the left were of one type, and the one on the right is another. The tree has four different kinds of pears grafted onto the main trunk, but I stupidly removed the labels and now I can’t remember what varieties there were. I’m pretty sure the odd one out on the right is a Bartlett, though. I considered trying to bake something with the pears, but my kids claimed them for their lunches.

My black sweet pepper plants only yielded one black pepper; unfortunately, the others all died or turned out to be green peppers. I really only grew these as an experiment anyway, since I’m not a huge pepper fan, so I gave them to my mother.

My apple tree is starting to drop its fruit; sadly, the poor tree suffers from a nasty case of apple scab despite my care, and a lot of the fruit aren’t good to eat. Apple scab itself is safe (although it’s ugly), but it does mean that the fruit often ends up cracked and rotting on the tree, or creates areas where it’s easier for pests to crawl inside. Even so, I have lots of apples to use up in recipes — this variety is very tart, so it’s best cooked.

I’m still harvesting a lot of tomatoes; although I feared frost a few weeks ago, this past week has been one of summer-like heat, so my tomatoes are actually still flowering! What fruit is on the vine is ripening nicely, so I may not have too many green tomatoes to deal with this year (even though I have a few great recipes for those too). Last night I made up another batch of Blender Salsa from page 92 of Preserving by the Pint: Quick Seasonal Canning for Small Spaces (Marisa McClellan, 2014), since my husband likes that version so much. The above photo was taken immediately after removing the jars from the hot water canner.

The basil plant in my mom’s garden needed to be cut back for the season, so she let me have all of the leaves in exchange for some of the pesto I made with them. Pesto is one of my favourite sauces to make because it’s so darned easy and can be made with so many leafy greens. I’ve made pesto before out of beet leaves, nasturtium leaves, and garlic scapes. The one that I made last night was the most common type: basil, garlic, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese.

Before I made the salsa and the pesto, I set aside two large tomatoes and a tablespoon of basil so that I could bake Fresh Tomato and Basil Loaf. The recipe is found on page 156 of Bread Machine: How to Prepare and Bake the Perfect Loaf (Jennie Shapter, 2002). This bread is started in the bread machine, which mixes, kneads, and proofs the dough. Then the dough is removed from the machine and additional ingredients are kneaded in by hand, the dough is left to rise in a loaf pan, and then the bread is baked in the oven. The addition of the tomatoes made this dough really sticky and unpleasant to knead, and I made an enormous mess, but it was totally worth it since this bread is delicious. I will definitely be using this recipe again.

Blender Salsa

The other day I brought Thing 1 and Thing 2 out to the garden and enlisted their help to find all of the ripe tomatoes. Between us, we picked 10lbs of tomatoes, which seems like a lot for the size of garden that I have, but in the end that only yielded…

…Five 500mL jars of canned salsa, with a bit left over for immediate consumption. It’s always a bit disappointing to see how much ingredients can shrink down when you cook them, especially when you grew said ingredients yourself. However, this time I was much happier with the taste of the end result than I was with my last batch. This time I used the Blender Salsa recipe found on page 92 of Preserving by the Pint: Quick Seasonal Canning for Small Spaces (Marisa McClellan, 2014). Like most salsas, this preserve is both vegan and vegetarian. It’s a really easy recipe, which appeals to me. I liked that it used lime juice and citric acid to increase the acidity, instead of using vinegar. I also liked that the recipe was free of added sugar, which is healthier anyway, but sugar’s unnecessary for flavour when cooking with cherry tomatoes. I did have to boil down the salsa a bit to obtain the desired consistency, but I’m beginning to think that that’s just a consequence of using predominantly cherry tomatoes. I will definitely be using this recipe again.

Dill Pickles

By now I am well into seasonal canning mode. Two weeks ago I started with my first batch of strawberry rhubarb butter, and last week I found a great sale on mini cucumbers in bulk, so I had to make dill pickles. We were on the last jar from the batch that I made right before Christmas anyway, and fresh pack dill pickles must rest for at least a month in a cool, dark place before eating to develop flavour. I mean, they’re safe to eat right away, but they taste better after some time.

This is what my canning setup looks like, with some adaptations depending on what food I’m preparing. For large batches or large cans, I tend to have two hot water baths boiling at the same time. The largest pot on the right is actually my pressure canner, but it works quite well as a large hot water canner if I don’t clip the lid closed. The smaller pot near the front is where I brought my pickling liquid to the boil. I’ll admit it, I take the quick and easy route when I make dill pickles and I use Bernardin Dill Pickle Mix. It means that I can completely skip the typical fermentation stage; I just have to wash and cut up the cucumbers, pack them into hot sterilized jars, pour over the pickling liquid, seal, and then process the jars in a hot water bath. This means that I can make up a huge batch of pickles in a matter of a few hours (as opposed to about five days with the fermented method).

This year I tried out a type of jar I’d never used before, ones that have a vintage-look green tint. Normally these jars are about twice the price of the standard clear glass jars of the same size, but I was lucky enough to find a whole bunch of them at $4.00 for a six pack ($0.66/jar) at, of all places, Dollarama. I bought out that location’s entire stock. I mean, a twelve pack of the same size regular jar at Canadian Tire currently goes for about $12.99 ($1.08/jar), so it was definitely a bargain.

One of the reasons that coloured jars used to be considered better for canning purposes is that they allow less light to pass through the glass, and hence the food stayed good longer. Exposure to sunlight can cause canned goods to decompose faster and/or to discolour, which is why historically most food storage is in a cool, dry, dark place. The coloured glass is just one more way to help. These days, though, it’s mostly a fashion thing, a hearkening back to the old-fashioned canning jar look. I personally think that the green-tinted jars are great for pickles (or any other green preserve), but that they’d sadly make different-coloured foods look like they’d gone off in the jar. Even if the food was fine, it might not be eaten just because of its looks. I mean, have you ever tried to eat green eggs and ham? I know that even when I make the eggs myself and am sure that they are safe, I can have a difficult time choking them down because my brain is telling me that they’ve gone off because of the colour. So I think that I will stick to using the green jars for cucumber pickles, or for crafts or storage where the colour doesn’t matter.

Canada Agriculture and Food Museum

We decided to forego the the crowds downtown on Canada Day; in retrospect, this ended up being a really good idea because the wait ended up being two to five hours to get onto Parliament Hill. There is no way that my kids would have had the patience for that — even if I did! After all, living in the nation’s capital means we can visit the area any time. Why contend with the crush?

Instead, we headed out to the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum, which is away from the downtown core. Parking was out into overflow lots, but otherwise it wasn’t too busy; I’ve seen it more packed when a bunch of school/camp trips all arrive simultaneously. Like most of the museums that are open on Canada Day, the Agriculture Museum had free admission, although we did have to pay $6.00 for parking. So all in all, it was a cheap day out.


Thing 2 checking ever-so-gently petting a sleepy calf.

There were all kinds of special demonstrations planned for Canada Day. We got a chance to check out the Chantecler chicken demo, ice cream making, the Great Canadian Quiz, the kids craft & games station, and the afternoon milking. Of course, we also had to make our way through all of the barns and pens to visit all of the animals. Thing 2, unsurprisingly, was the most fascinated by all of the animals.


Thing 2 on my husband’s shoulders while they watch the afternoon milking.

This kind of museum probably doesn’t have a huge amount of appeal to people from farming communities, where the knowledge to be garnered from the exhibits is part of everyday life, at least in part. I mean, day to day I can’t see the history of canola oil production in Canada being something that comes up, but if you live with livestock then it’s not going to be all that exciting to see them in a museum. However, for city folks like my family, it’s very interesting. I also think that it’s important for everyone to understand where their food comes from and how much time and effort goes into feeding our country. And of course for the kids, being allowed to touch some of the animals means that the place ends up being like a large petting zoo.


Thing 1 checking out the replica root cellar in the food preservation exhibit.

As a home cook, I found the Food Preservation: The Science You Eat exhibit to be particularly interesting. I like how you literally have to walk through the history up to the modern day. I’m also a big fan of area where you can manually control the time lapse video (forward, back, and speed) of decomposing food. I’ve always found that kind of thing to be fascinating.


Jars in the food preservation exhibit.

There is a section of the exhibit dedicated to home canning as well, which is very relevant to my interests.

All in all, we had a wonderful day out! We even got lucky with the weather and managed to avoid most of the rain. We’ve been to the Agriculture Museum many times before, and it never ceases to entertain and educate. I highly recommend visiting this museum if you have the chance.