August 25, 2017

Summer in a jar


Cooler days are right ahead, so why not preserve the best of summer while you can?

By Joanne Sasvari

As summer wanes, so does all that glorious fresh local produce in the markets. Already, the soft berries are gone and so, too, the early tree fruits. In a few weeks, there will be little to choose from except apples and squash.

Unless, that is, you get to work right now and start preserving some of that seasonal bounty.

But, you might be saying, isn’t canning hard? And isn’t it scary?

Not at all, says Lee Murphy, proprietor of Vista d’Oro Farms & Winery and author of The Preservatory: Seasonally inspired recipes for creating and cooking with artisanal preserves (Appetite by Random House). She should know: her sophisticated preserves—think Figs & Walnut Wine or Strawberry with Balsamic & Pink Peppercorns—can be found in gourmet markets all over Metro Vancouver.

“Making something yourself is always rewarding and getting something into a jar that you can enjoy all year round is so satisfying,” she says.

Jams, jellies, pickles, chutneys and the like all use sugar, salt and/or acidity, along with heat, to preserve fresh fruit and vegetables in a sealed environment. Before the days of refrigeration and fast shipping, it was pretty much the only way to enjoy produce out of season. Today we may not actually need to preserve anything, but it’s still the best way to capture the flavours of summer.

Right now, for instance, is a good time to preserve tomatoes in salsas and chutneys. “We do a ton of green tomatoes around this time of year,” Murphy says. “We have a recipe for green tomatoes with Indian spice. It’s delicious with cheese or grilled scallops.”

Markets stalls are also filling with plums, apples and pears, delicious in jams, as well as cukes, carrots, fennel and cauliflower, all perfect for pickling.

Best of all, you can add your own unique touches with spices, herbs, even a splash of something boozy.

“I get inspired by meals or when I’m travelling,” Murphy says. “I’ve always been an advocate of adding interesting components to preserves.”

And, she notes, the risks of canning have been highly overblown. “They’re one of the safest things to make as long as you’re following a good recipe and you have enough sugar and enough acid. And if you’re worried, just put it in the fridge,” she says.

Well, there is one serious danger when it comes to canning, Murphy admits: “It’s addicting. And once you start flavour combining, look out.”

Recipe:

Pear & Vanilla Bean Preserves

This classic recipe from The Preservatory cookbook (Appetite by Random House) is made with author Lee Murphy’s favourite fruit, pears. Serve it alongside cheese, slather it on toast or scones, or even mix it into a martini.

Makes a dozen 8-oz (250 mL) jars

  • 6 lb (2.75 kg) pears
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) fresh lemon juice
  • 8 cups (2 L) sugar

Peel and core the pears, then slice thinly. You should have 5 lb (2.25 kg) of prepared fruit.

Cut vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape out seeds with the dull side of a paring knife. Stir vanilla seeds into lemon juice and whisk to separate seeds.

Stir sliced pears together with sugar and vanilla-lemon juice in a jam pot. Bring to a boil for 5 minutes. Cool and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, fill a preserving pot with water and bring to a boil. Place 12 8-oz (250-mL) jars and their snap lids in the pot and sterilize for at least 15 minutes. Keep hot until you’re ready to fill the jars.

Pour the pear mixture into a separate large pot and bring mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, skimming often. Cook until it reaches the setting point at 220°F (110°C).

Remove from heat and let sit 5 minutes. Remove jars and snap lids from boiling water. Ladle preserves into hot sterilized jars, wipe rims, place snap lids on jars and loosely tighten ring bands. Return jars to the pot of boiling water and process for 10 to 15 minutes.

Remove and cool to room temperature. If you hear a “pop” and the dimple on top of the snap lid turns concave, your preserves are good and you can keep them in a cool, dark place for up to six months. If not, place them in the refrigerator and consume within two weeks.

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