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.
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.
|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
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.
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