Category Archives: Canning

The Truth about my Blue Ribbon

I had to drive to Puyallup to get my ribbon. They call it “Jar Release.” There were limited days and hours available for you to pick up your winning jar and ribbon, otherwise they’d be donated to charity and I wasn’t about to let that happen. So,  on one of those days after school, I made the long trek through traffic, along I-405, route 167 and I5 during rush hour to pick up my beloved prize. I was on the road for almost three hours. In my last-ditch effort to avoid such a trip, I called to see if my ribbon could be mailed, but apparently it couldn’t. The grommets in the ribbons bother the post office. I think it might be time for some new technology, USPS.

But I digress. What I really want to chat about is what I discovered when I picked up my jar. Before arriving, I had wondered, what’s the point? If the jar had been opened for a tasting and had been sitting that way in a case for three weeks, it wouldn’t be any good. But that wasn’t the case. To my surprise, my jar wasn’t open! Wait… no one tasted it? Didn’t I earn a blue ribbon because it’s a flavor bonanza of summer deliciousness?? Apparently not.

As I read the “report card” that was attached to my jar, I was filled with mixed emotions as I learned that the blue ribbon is not really for flavor at all, but for how well I can preserve. As that realization started to sink in, I couldn’t help but think of all the trials and tribulations of my canning journey, like when I stood over a steamy water bath canner to pull out bottomless (literally…jars broken from thermal shock) jars of blueberry butter years ago. Never did I imagine I’d sometime be receiving a ribbon for my canning skills with that very recipe.

I received the highest marks possible for having a perfect seal, the ideal head space and an all-around fabulous looking product. The only area in which I received a score of “fair” was for the criteria, “Doesn’t appear runny.” And really, I don’t even know what that means. When I tip my jar over, it’s solid gel – not runny at all. So, I’m not even sure how I could improve that. There was also a little note that said, “Nice for toast or ice cream.” But how does she know if she didn’t try it?

I guess that will have to remain a mystery for now. I’ll inquire next year when I enter another jar of jam because I wouldn’t mind having another ribbon to add to my collection.


Video: A Fine Day for a Fair

I got to go to the fair on Saturday and what a fine day it was! I have to admit that originally, my motive to go to the fair was entirely about seeing my first ever blue ribbon in person.

To say I’ve been excited about this old fashion accomplishment would be an understatement. When I first found out I won, I called my grandma because I knew she’d appreciate the news. When she answered, I exclaimed, “Grandma! Guess what??” to which she replied in a hopeful voice, “You’re getting married?” Need I say more?

Of course, that was the first stop. I couldn’t fully enjoy the rest of the fair until I had a look at it. It took a few minutes to find, as the preserved foods section abounds with colorful jars, but we found it. And I was happy as a clam. I fully admit to gushing to a few older fair goers around me, “Look! That’s my first blue ribbon!”

Me (thumbs up) and Rachel – 1990

Once I had fully reveled in the moment, we headed out to enjoy the rest of the fair. And I had forgotten how much fun it can be! I still remember “doing the Puyallup” years ago when my dad would take my sister and me.

I was able to deduce that the old pictures above were taken on a trip to the fair in 1990 and I only wish I could have found the one I was searching for – the one of me posing by the cows.

As an adolescent, I went through a period of being fascinated by cows and started to amass a collection of all things bovine. I decided at the fair that if I were ever to own a cow, I’d have myself a “golden retriever” cow* or two, if not purely for their adorable furry appearance.

It seems a random and odd collection to have, but I can’t help but relate to my younger self and that appreciation for farm animals. I drug my friend through more 4H and Future Farmers of America barn exhibits at the fair than one.

I think I can speak for both of us when I say that we liked the pigs the most – the barn with the pigs, where 4H kids would lie in the stalls with their heads propped up on the bellies of their pigs, as comfortable as can be. Both pig and kid.

I’m sure it will come as no surprise to anyone that I thoroughly enjoyed my walk through the agriculture section of Hobby Hall. Even though I still don’t really get what the big produce displays are all about, they drew me in. Vegetables have a way of doing that these days. It was the Toy Story display that tickled me the most. I mean, really. A Toy Story alien made out of beans? That makes total sense!

And while I’m not a ride person since my inner ear troubles plague me, leaving me with the legacy of being the cousin who would try to go on the rides and then throw up, I couldn’t resist the slide. Luckily, I was tall enough. Adult after adult went up the stairs to the slide only to come down with a child in their lap while I stood in line for myself. When I got to the landing and turned around, the most adorable little boy was just behind me – all by himself. I looked at him and said, “You’re going by yourself? Me too! You are so brave.” And he replied, “I am brave.” I don’t know what I loved more – that tender moment or my own ride down the slide.

So, instead of something educational today, I offer you a little piece of the fair. Doesn’t it just sound like fair? A little laughter and lightheartedness is what this Monday needs. Don’t you think? Have a great week, my friends!

* There’s no such thing as a “Golden Retriever” cow – I just made it up because they look so damn cute!


Video: Canning Cumin Seed Pickled Carrots

This summer, I became a Master Food Preserver! I think I forgot to mention that. I started in June, actually a five-week course through Seattle Tilth designed to provide its students with the knowledge and skills needed to teach others safe methods for food preservation. I solidified my understanding of water bath canning, remembered what I had learned about pressure canning, reviewed my knowledge about freezing and dehydrating, and began my obsession with fermentation. Not to mention the countless tips, tricks and recipes I learned or the friends and connections I made.

What also came about as a result of graduating from this course along with recently tasting a myriad of delicious pickled foods is a newfound motivation to pickle fruits and vegetables. In the past, the only things pickled I made were cucumber dill pickles and dilly beans, both of which I don’t really like. But when I tasted things like pickled beets and pickle cherries, my tastes toward these brined delights began to change.

Today, I share with you one of my pickle projects of the season, cumin seed pickled carrots. I stumbled upon this post by Kaela at Local Kitchen and was stoked to see this recipe for pickled carrots. When canning something you hope to store on the shelf, especially a low-acid food like carrots, you want to be sure you’re using a recipe you can trust. So besides the fact that I trust Kaela’s know-how and credibility as a canner and cook, I was also content to see her recipe from Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, a cookbook with tested canning recipes, and a ratio of vinegar and water in the brine recipe that is safe (the amount of water should never be greater than the vinegar).

I cracked open one of the jars the other day and oh my word, the carrots were as delicious as they were beautiful! The flavor of the cumin really came through! If you can, do what I did and can a mix of purple and orange carrots – it produces the most beautiful shade of magenta you’ve ever seen! In today’s video, I’ll show you how to put this recipe together while giving you some water bath canning basics.

Cumin Seed Pickled Carrots
Adapted slightly from this recipe via Local Kitchen

So, you’re probably asking yourself, why are you posting a recipe you made changes to when you just got through saying you trusted it because it came directly from the Ball cookbook? Because the changes I made were around dry spices, which you can mix and match without worrying about safety. What is NOT ok is to mix and match different quantities or additions of fresh vegetables and herbs to tested recipes that can change the pH and thus possibly make the food unsafe to eat! 

Also, it’s generally a good idea to make double the quantity of brine or syrup you need for a recipe since you almost always need more and whipping up another batch in the middle of a canning project can be a pain. Since I only had about 2 1/2 pounds of carrots, I left the brine quantity the same in order to sure I had enough. I only ended up with about 2 cups of extra brine, which I used to pickle kale stems to store in the fridge. Win win!

Vegetable and Spice Ingredients:
2 1/2 – 3 pounds purple and orange carrots, washed, peeled and julienned

1 teaspoon cumin seeds (for each jar)
2 teaspoons brown mustard seeds (for each jar)

Brine Ingredients:
6 cups white vinegar (5% acidity)
2 cups distilled water
1/2 cup pickling and canning salt

Putting it all together:
1. Add the vinegar and water to a non-reactive pan and bring to a boil. Once boiling, add the salt and stir to dissolve. Turn the heat down and maintain at a gentle boil.

2. Add 1 teaspoon of cumin seeds and 2 teaspoons mustard seeds to each clean and warm jar. Fill each jar with prepared carrots, leaving 1/2 inch head space.

3. Ladle hot brine into each jar, pushing floating carrots down as needed, to ensure they’re covered. Make sure there’s 1/2 inch head space still, now that the brine has been added.

4. Remove any air bubbles, wipe the rims of your jars, add your lids and rings and place into your water bath canner.*

5.Process for 10 minutes and let cool on the counter for 24 hours before checking the seals. Store without the rings in place and avoid stacking jars so that you can monitor their seals periodically.

Water Bath Canning How-to from the National Center for Home Food Preservation

Make 5 pints and one 1/2 pint

* Important Disclaimer! These how-to steps are abbreviated, assuming that you know the basic steps for water bath canning. If you’re new to the hobby, please check out my video and read the linked document above (“Water Bath Canning How-to) before getting started with this recipe. Safety first!


August Disclaimer

Warning: Blueberry picking, preserving, and harvesting copious amounts of vegetables and herbs from your garden may decrease your blogging frequency. Symptoms may include taking time out to savor the delicious flavors coming out of the garden, sweating over a hot stove while using the water bath canner, and enjoying tasty beverages made with homemade simple syrups.

In other words, I am loving my summer and am spending most of my time enjoying it rather than writing about it, but I’m still here and will have a new post up soon!

Right now though, I need to focus on what I’ve just brought into the kitchen today:

  • ~9 pounds of blueberries
  • 2 1/4 pounds of zucchini
  • 1/4 pound of carrots
  • 4 cups of fresh basil
  • 1/2 pound of green beans
  • just over a pound of ripe Stupice tomatoes

I see basil pesto and blueberry butter (not a combination of the two, of course) in my future.

Here’s hoping y’all have a bountiful weekend!