My First Preserves
Last December a friend brought me 15 ruby red grapefruits for Christmas. It was a lovely present, but what the heck does one do with 15 grapefruits when one is living alone? I'm not even supposed to be eating grapefruits or grapefruit juice any time I take my medication to control my cholesterol (though you can hours afterwards). I had a high old time making delicious grapefruit Screwdrivers, but that paled quickly. I had them halved for breakfast and that grew tired. I had one salad of watercress and grapefruit, but you don't exactly crave having another in close proximity. Well...what about marmalade?
I've never canned or "put up" preserves in my life. I would never have attempted to do this in my New York kitchen. But now I'm in Portland and my kitchen is large and such an undertaking is possible. A futile search for pink grapefruit marmalade in my large cookbook collection revealed nothing that interested me, so I went to the Internet and found a recipe that had been adapted from one by Nigella Lawson. It looked simple enough, but was poorly written. I had to convert grams to ounces, and steps were sketchy at best. But it woefully lacked instructions for sterilizing, jars, inside lids and screw bands--and not having specifics about this important part of making preserves could end up making you sick. That's why I turned to a nifty and detailed book on the subject: CANNING AND PRESERVING FOR DUMMIES, 2nd edition by Amelia Jeanroy and Karen Ward (For Dummies, a branded imprint of Wiley; $19.95; ISBN: 978-047050455). Here is a guide that combines excellent recipes for making jams, jellies and preserves as well as canning vegetables and sauces, with the specifics of equipment, utensils, the steps required to both sterilize jars and lids and the necessary water-bath and pressure canning and proper storage.
I was already committed to making the pink marmalade and the closest I got to a recipe in CANNING AND PRESERVING FOR DUMMIES was being inspired to add ginger to the pink grapefruit after reading a recipe called Lime-Ginger Marmalade. But I learned how to properly sterilize my jars separately from the lids, and how much water to immerse the finished jars into, and for how long, etc. I learned how important skimming the top of the bubbling preserves is to the clarity and appearance of the marmalade. I had my first experience trying to fish hot jars of marmalade out of the boiling water bath without the benefit of jar lifters and discovered how much easier it was to use a wide-mouthed canning funnel. I also discovered that you often need things like pectin to help thicken the fruit juices into jelly. I had no idea that preserves, jams and jellies required so much sugar! My marmalade turned out perfectly because I was able to use the recipe instructions to understand when the fruit had cooked to a "jammy" consistency (in this case without pectin)--thanks to this instructive book.
CANNING AND PRESERVING FOR DUMMIES extends to other methods of storing food. Discover how your freezer can truly become another storage extender by knowing what freezes well and what doesn't, find out all about vacuum sealing machines, and how to pack, label and thaw frozen foods safely. There are recipes for freezing your own vegetables from asparagus to winter squash. Extend the life of your herbs by freezing them so they are ready when you are. There are also chapters on drying fruits, nuts and vegetables. Finally there is a chapter on root cellars and alternative storage spaces, making this a comprehensive resource to preserving the best of the growing season so it is available to you throughout the year.
As we move closer to canning season, I now have a raised bed outside my kitchen door. I'll plant vegetables that I can put up during the summer so that I have them during the winter months when good tomatoes are unavailable, asparagus is out of season, and I'm longing for a Chiogga beet. I can make my own pickles, relishes, chutneys, and sauces, preserve peppers, and those gorgeous Atomic purple and orange carrots that I so admired at the farmer's market last summer. I might even try my hand at canning my own creamed corn or Sauerkraut. In this economy making your own food, especially when you can preserve food at its peak makes $sense.
After running through 12 half-pints (shown in photo), another friend in a burst of enthusiasm, gifted me with an additional 12 pink grapefruits, which took up two afternoons and I have enough for another eighteen jars! I now have 12 new, large pint jars of marmalade on my storage shelves in the basement and with CANNING AND PRESERVING FOR DUMMIES, the confidence I need to add this method of making food to my cooking repertoire.