Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Daring Cooks get Canny

canning copy

The September 2010 Daring Cooks’ challenge was hosted by John of Eat4Fun. John chose to challenge The Daring Cooks to learn about food preservation, mainly in the form of canning and freezing. He challenged everyone to make a recipe and preserve it. John’s source for food preservation information was from The National Center for Home Food Preservation. Read his thorough discussion of canning techniques and also some excellent recipes if you’re new to canning.

While we are not new to canning here in the Monkeyshines household, this was nevertheless an excellent and informative challenge.

Let’s talk first about the successes:

We made a Plum Cardamom Butter that is out of this world (if we say so ourselves). And it really couldn’t have been easier to make. Monkey devoured the little bit that was left over after filling the jars in a matter of days.

We also made a Spicy Chile Chutney that tasted fantastic. It was awesome on a turkey burger last weekend.

Last, but most certainly not least, we canned fresh Montmorency cherries – commonly referred to as pie cherries or sour cherries though they aren’t so much sour as just not the sugar bombs that other cherries can be. The season for these is fleeting – some years they don’t arrive at all – so week after week we kept buying pounds of them and putting them up. Some are canned, some frozen and we look forward to enjoying them throughout the rest of the year.

These were processed using a  recipe from an old British cookbook. We placed the pitted cherries in sterilized jars, then poured in boiling syrup and then baked the jars in the oven at 300 degrees for 50 minutes. This apparently does not meet current USDA standards, they say that the mix might not get hot all the way through, though since the syrup was boiling going in, we are not too concerned.

Then there was the less successful part… Over the years the safety standards for home canning have become much more conservative. Two years ago, we canned tomatoes using the directions from my grandmother’s 1950’s edition of the Joy of Cooking and they were just wonderful. We processed them in hot water for about 5 minutes. Nowadays the USDA recommends 85 minutes. Honestly, I couldn’t bear it and pulled this year’s batch out of the water after 60 minutes. We haven’t opened these yet, but you can tell by looking that there’s a world of difference. I found a can from the two-year-ago batch and the tomatoes look fresh and are packed in their lovely juice. This year’s batch have been cooked beyond recognition and are watery. While processing both the bruschetta and the tomatoes, the jars leaked just a bit during the extended boil and I think a) some water got in and b) the solids in the juice cooked out and separated.

I’ll also confess that last year I canned a batch of tomatoes and, on inspection the next day, they were bubbling vigorously. This is not a good thing – though it was very obvious and therefore we knew not to eat them. However, when I can tomatoes again next year I still plan to stay closer to the old recipe than the new one. I am not advising you to do that. I’m just saying… When I go to the work of putting up 10 pounds of tomatoes, I really want the resulting product to taste as close to a summer-ripe fresh tomato as possible. 85 minutes of hard boiling (or even 60 min) just doesn’t cut it. For me.

canning 030

Tomatoes from 2010 and 2008 – this year’s batch is on the left

would you do that to these beauties?

canning 003


Plum Cardamom Butter

Canning2_ 001

4 lb ripe plums, halved
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tsp cardamom, ground from fresh pods

In a heavy saucepan, cook the plums, sugar, lemon juice and 1/2 tsp ground cardamom. Bring to a boil, then cook over a low heat until the mix is thick and pasty. This is likely to take several hours. Add the remaining cardamom, to taste – we found that the spice flavor diminished with cooking. Also, if you’re using pre-ground, you might want to add a touch more than this recipe calls for.

Canning2_ 012Canning2_ 013

Pour the butter into 4 sterile half-pint (or 2 pint) jars and process in boiling water for 15 minutes. We’re assuming here that you are familiar with canning – see John’s recipes if you are not. And rest assured that this processing time is compliant with (current) USDA standard.


Spicy Chile Chutney

This chutney (or is it a relish?) is nicely balanced. The peppers aren’t particularly hot, but they cook down to something more piquant than a common bell pepper/capiscum. There’s just enough sugar to balance the acid without making it sweet.

Canning2_ 008
1 pound gypsy peppers
1 medium onion
1/4 cup cider vinegar
2 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp mustard seed
1 tsp coriander seed
1 tsp salt 
1 tsp black peppercorns

Dice the onion finely and sauté. Coarsely grind the mustard seeds, coriander seeds and peppercorns in a mortar and pestle, then add to the onions.

Slice the peppers into approx. 1/2 inch rounds and add to the onions. Add salt, then cover and reduce heat and simmer partially covered until very soft – about 15-20 minutes.

Canning2_ 016

Stir in the vinegar and brown sugar. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until jammy – about another 20 minutes.

Pour the butter into 4 sterile half-pint (or 2 pint) jars and process in boiling water for 15 minutes. As with the recipe above, this processing time is compliant with (current) USDA standard.


  1. Your plum cardamom butter sounds absolutely divine! It's definitely going on my list of "to-try" recipes.

  2. Wow! Outstanding job - so many jars of deliciousness!


  3. Lovely colors in those jars! Kudos for doing so many things!

  4. Wow, they all sound fantastic. Especially the pear-cardamom.
    I saw that you lived in SF...have you tried Dirty Girl Produce's dry-farmed Early Girl tomatoes. They're so delicious. I slow-roasted and put away 20 lbs of them!

  5. The plum-cardamom butter was fabulous, wasn't it? Those cherries sound amazing too. The new recommendations for processing tomatoes are pretty depressing--it's 45 min for a quart jar according to a book I've got, and even that seems too long. So, no tomatoes for me this year.