Food quote of note

"The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience"…Eleanor Roosevelt

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Well Preserved

I love canning and preserving  - not sure exactly why -- unlike many of my Southern friends or my farm-boy husband, I didn't grow up with a family heritage of preserving foods - and yet, I am deeply attracted to the art, science and ritual of "putting up". 

It started about 5 years ago - while visiting Charleston one fall I stumbled upon Steve Dowdney at the Farmer's Market in Marion Square.  Steve was selling a wide variety of jams, jellies, pickles, chow-chows and chutneys - and while I was drawn to the bright colors and fresh flavors, I was even more intrigued by Steve and the stories he told about growing up in a house steeped in the tradition of canning and preserving.  He captured these stories and the recipes in a book called "Putting Up...A Year-Round Guide to Canning in the Southern Tradition".  I left the Farmer's Market that warm fall morning with several jars of jam, a new book and a rapidly building interest in canning and preserving. 

Well, I have to admit, since then I've pretty much been hooked.  I started out my first year with just a batch or two of pepper jelly - using Steve's recipe and technique.  Each year I've expanded my preserving repertoire - jams, jellies, and pickles - we've got a very large stash of preserved food in our basement and most of my friends and relatives now get their holiday gifts in a mason jar. 

So why do I like canning and preserving so much?  Why am I so attracted to (ok, maybe obsessed with) putting up? 

For one thing, it's a great way to capture food at its peak of ripeness - canning and preserving fresh fruits allows you to hold on to their fresh flavors and beautiful colors beyond the short summer months.  There's nothing like opening up a home-made jar of blackberry jam in mid-January - you are immediately transported back to a hot July day.  It's not quite the same as a handful of fresh-picked berries - but it's as close as you can get!  Case in point - is there anything prettier than this fresh fig jam -- seriously, that color pink is just irresistable!  There's not alot of extras or fancy additions to this recipe - figs, sugar, orange juice, orange zest and a little bit of pectin - so you end up with a lovely, chunky jam that keeps the beautiful color and rich, sweet flavor of fresh figs.  (This happens to be one of my husband's favorite jams).

Fresh figs - most usually gathered from the tree of a generous friend or neighbor - one of my favorite fruits of summer for "putting up". 

These luscious and lovely fruits of summer need little adornment - the goal is to highlight the sweet, lovely, ripe taste of the fresh figs.

Pretty in pink - beautiful, fresh fig preserves.
I'm committed to using only fresh and local produce in everything I preserve  - which has led to a side benefit of my growing canning addiction (OK, there, I've admitted it!).  In my search for fresh, local fruit and vegetables, I've gotten to meet some really interesting and inspiring local farmers - the folks who actually do all the hard work to bring that fresh food to market.  I love the fact that these friendly, down-to-earth folks always have a story to share about their crop - details of their farm, their families, a recap of this season's weather and how that has impacted their harvest.  These stories, this way of life and this deep commitment to the land - all of this is as much a part of what I'm preserving as the fruit that ends up in jars on my shelf. 

In addition to neighborhood farmer's markets and local pick-your-own farms, one of my prime sources of fresh produce is the Atlanta Farmer's Market in Forest Park, Georgia.  There's a section of this large, expansive market (sheds 11-14) that is reserved for Georgia-grown produce.  You have to go early in the morning - but it's worth it - there's a great selection and the prices can't be beat!

The Atlanta Farmer's Market has been my go-to-source for local peaches this year.

Each basket of fresh Georgia peaches costs only $18 - quite the bargain, especially since it comes with a sample (cut with a pocket knife), an update on the local growing season and a commentary on the recent Atlanta Braves game.
So - while it is true that most of my recipes are simple and focus on pure fruit flavors, I did pick up a recipe for Peach Bellini Jam that I have grown especially fond of - after all, the only thing better than fresh peaches is fresh peaches with a little bubbly added in! 


Peach Bellini Jam - thanks to Canning-Maven Brenda Hill for sharing this tasty recipe that combines some of my favorite things - fresh peaches and Prosecco!

Makes 8 half-pints
7 1/2 cups sugar
3 cups finely choppped, peeled ripe peaches
1 cup Prosecco or other sparkling white wine
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 of a 6-ounce package (1 foil pouch) liquid fruit pectin

--In a 6-to-8-quart stainless-steel, enamel, or nonstick heavy pot, combine sugar, peaches, Prosecco,  and lemon juice. Bring to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly until sugar dissolves.
--Quickly stir in liquid pectin. Return to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly. Boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Quickly skim off foam with a metal spoon, avoiding peaches.
--Ladle hot jam into hot, sterilized half-pint canning jars, leaving a 1/4-inch headspace. Wipe jar rims; adjust lids.
--Process filled jars in a boiling-water canner for 5 minutes (start timing when water returns to boiling). Remove jars from canner; cool on wire racks.
--To distribute fruit, cool for about 20 minutes, then gently turn and tilt jars without inverting them; repeat as needed.

But, even more than the bright and beautiful jars filled with fresh flavors  -- by far the thing I love most about canning is preserving the stories that come with each recipe - the family memories and traditions that are a part of this ritual of "putting up".  One of my favorite example of this is "Aunt Alice's Bread & Butter Pickles" - hands-down the best pickle recipe and, more importantly, a touching example of preserving family traditions.
I have to confess - I don't have an Aunt Alice - but this doesn't stop me from making pint after pint of Aunt Alice's Bread & Butter pickles each year (38 pints is the 2013 tally).  "Aunt Alice" is actually the aunt of my best friend's husband - sadly, she's no longer with us - but, she was known and loved by all for her sweet spirit, warm smile, and killer pickles!  So, when I mentioned in passing to my best friend that I was looking for a good pickle recipe, there was no question about it - I had to use Aunt Alice's recipe.  The recipe itself was quite simple - but, it was passed on with several sweet stories and fond remembrances of Aunt Alice, some from recent years, and some from years gone by.   

Alice DuBose Fowler, "Aunt Alice", always willing to share a warm smile - and, her famous pickle recipe!
When "Aunt Alice" wasn't making pickles, she knew how to have fun!
"Aunt Alice" maintained her warm smile and sweet spirit, no matter what life threw at her - always an inspiration to her family and friends.
I've been making Aunt Alice's pickles for a few years now - and, I admit, my husband and I have  become addicted.  I love their crispness and the just-right balance of tart and sweet flavors.  Each year, as I make them, I think about Aunt Alice - about a woman who was known for her kindness and sweet disposition.  And, each year as I share these pickles with friends and family, they invariably ask me about my Aunt Alice - I chuckle and then share the story of a sweet, beloved Aunt who touched everyone she met.  I'm inspired to think how strong an influence a woman can have on her family and friends - and how touching it is that this influence is living on well after Aunt Alice has passed. 
So, it's more than fresh fruit and vegetables, jams and jellies - this ritual of "putting up" is more than just preserving food, it's about preserving traditions -- and, it's more than just sharing recipes, is about sharing memories. Open up a jar, sit for a minute, share a bite and share a story!  Here's to you, Aunt Alice!! 

The 2013 batch of Aunt Alice's Bread & Butter Pickles

Aunt Alice's Bread & Butter Pickles
Makes 12 pints

25-30 small to medium cucumbers
8 white onions1/2 cup salt
5 cups vinegar
5 cups sugar
1 tablespoon mustard seed
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon turmeric

--Slice cucumbers very thin and sprinkle with salt.  Let stand 3 hours.  Rinse well and drain.
--Slice onions and combine with cucumbers in a large stockpot.
--In a large saucepan, combine vinegar, sugar, mustard seed, celery seed and turmeric.  Bring to a boil.
--Pour mixture over drained cucumbers and onions in a stockpot.  Heat but do not boil.  Pack pickles into hot, sterilized pint jars and seal.  Process in hot water bath canner.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone


  1. Thank you, dear best friend, for your sweet words about our beloved Aunt Alice! If she'd have known your birthday and wedding anniversary, she would have remembered and sent you a card each year! Sounds like another wonderful woman we love, huh?

  2. Nice write up on Aunt Alice and I thank you for it. I'm her "chauffeur" in the middle picture.

    Dave DuBose