|Cukes, hot peppers and snow peas ready to be pickled last summer|
Over the past two years, I have dabbled a bit in preserving vegetables. Some spectacular tomato sauce and pickled beets. Some good salsas, a tomato relish, and yellow tomato jam. Still learning how to pickle cucumbers successfully. All in all, I have poured a lot of vinegar, and it has been mid-winter fun to pour the flavor of summertime out of a jar.
For my ingredients, I have gone two ways. The romantic is Larriland Farm in Woodbine, where I have picked blueberries, tomatoes and beets on the volume discount. The practical is the Asian groceries stores like Lotte or H Mart in Catonsville. Beets, snow peas, cucumbers and more are seasonably cheap, and I buy a bunch to put some away.
Either way, it's a fun project for anyone who likes to cook -- but maybe bursts of cooking rather than steady time every week. It's great fun to put away salsa or jelly or relish and then be able to create a weeknight meal with the twist of a wrist. Simple tomato sauce is a revelation in January. It's like covering pasta with the taste of August. Grate some cheese, and it's so much better than a jar of commercial sauce.
If you're intrigued, I recommend that you leaf through two books now to what people do with your favorite ingredients -- Canning For A New Generation by Liana Krissoff and Put 'Em Up by Sherri Brooks Vinton. They're variations on a hipster theme, using the traditional canning methods and modernizing the ingredients and flavors.
My advice is that you start small. You'll see to buy basic equipment -- a large pot, empty jars, and some tools like a pot lifter and a measuring stick to stir out air bubbles. (Kendall Hardware has a bunch of supplies, although I bought my large pot on Amazon.) Buy small and see if you're amused.
Both books describe the basic techniques. I read a few books two years ago, and I put together the idea. In the end, it's pretty easy. You put your food in Mason jars, then boil them a while to heat the food and force out the air. As they cool, vacuum seals the lids, and you can put them away. The books give you times. You follow instructions.
Put 'Em Up is a fine starter book if you just want one. Tomato sauce, jams, pickled beans and beets. That is a year's projects right there. Canning For A New Generation goes a bit wilder on the ingredients -- peach and cilantro salsa, green mango chutney, cumin-pickled summer squash. Krissoff's ideas are worth experimenting. Flipping through now, I just got inspired to grab a few pounds of radishes and carrots on my next Lotte run.
And we have already circled strawberry season on our calendar for Larriland. Come on mid-May!
Let me know if you have canning advice. Any stories to share? Any other books that you like. We also grabbed The Preservation Kitchen at Sweet Elizabeth Jane on Main Street in Ellicott City. Beautiful pictures, but the recipes weren't as useful to me.