This is a blog about home canning—or "putting up" as one might say where I'm from—and it will cover jams and other fruit preserves, pickles and briny things, canned vegetables (above all tomatoes) and the complement of condiments that includes relishes, sauces, salsas and those related preparations that result when you chunk bits of seasonal produce and preserve them in a syrup either piquant or sweet.

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Saturday
Jul042009

Pickled Onions

I got 10 bunches of little onions on Wednesday at the SMFM. The next day Claire and I went for a hike, and she said out of the blue: "I know what I want you to pickle next—onions." Then this morning Beatrice said her favorite pickles are onions. What do you know? The 10 bunches made three pints of pickles which I just took out of the hot-water bath. One for each of us.

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Saturday
Jul042009

Brined Cucumber Pickles

This is what the brined cucumbers look like after 5 days.

They started to ferment at 3 days. I tasted one and it was delicious—a nice crunch and a haunting dill flavor—but clearly not quite there yet.

On day 4 the surface of the brine was covered with a delicate scum that looks like crepe paper made from spider silk. I skimmed it and it returned within 24 hours.

On day 6, today, the fermentation seems to have slowed (fewer bubbles) and the cucumbers now look pickled—olive green instead of the fresh green. I'll jar them tomorrow.

Saturday
Jul042009

Storing Garlic

Last year about this time, I got a handful of garlic from Windrose Farm, my favorite stand at the Wednesday Santa Monica Farmer's Market. (Their potatoes and onions are the best you can get.) I was pretty surprised by it: even garlic is noticeably better when you get it fresh as opposed to buying it at the grocery store. A week later I went back to get more but, alas, the entire crop had already sold out.

This Wednesday, Windrose had the first of the new garlic harvest, and I thought it prudent to stockpile. Lincoln from Windrose said that if you wrap it in paper towels and store it in tupperware containers, it will last "for months."

I got five pounds, which I swaddled in paper towels, bundled in brown paper and laid it down in those plastic under-bed storage bins you can get at The Container Store.

Saturday
Jul042009

Apricot Butter

Here's the last of my apricot work for the year. I'm sorry to be done with it, but the seasons are changing fast, and it's time to get on to peaches.

You know the concept of the cook's treat? That's the tasty bit the cook gets to put aside for himself as a kitchen prerogative, something to eat while standing at the stove or when cleaning up after the guests have left—the soft bits of carrot and chicken at the bottom of the stock pot or the charred scrap of fat left after slicing a roast.

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Friday
Jul032009

Smooth Apricot Jam with Maple and Vanilla

More flavor research with Blenheim apricots.

The other day Bettina of Bee Green Farm told me she makes apricot jam with maple syrup, lemon verbena and brandy. I loved the idea at first blush, but then started to second-guess it.

The scent of lemon verbena takes me directly to the Rive Gauche. When I lived in Paris I concluded many a late supper with a cup of lemon verbena tea—it's called verveine over there—to sober me up before walking back to my flat on Quai Voltaire. The reason I probably needed sobering in the first place was that I'd drunk too much cognac, France's most famous brandy, after dessert.

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Thursday
Jul022009

Apricot Jam with Bitter Almond

The other day when I bought Blenheim apricots from Bee Green Farm, the proprietress, Bettina, asked me if I used the pits in my jam. I haven't up to now, but I've been meaning to try it. You don't actually use the entire pit, just the internal kernel that you get to by cracking open the pit. The kernel pops out of its shell, moist and neat, and has a powerful taste of bitter almond—the flavor of marzipan.

But here's the thing: apricot pits, like apple seeds, are potentially poisonous. According to internet sources of unproven reliability, apricot pits contain trace quantities of a compound called laetrile or amygdalin that turns into cyanide as it breaks down in the body. The bitter flavor, in other words, is a potent toxin, and it can kill you dead if you eat enough pits. How many is enough? Forty to fifty, if you believe the Web warnings.

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Tuesday
Jun302009

Apricot Jam with Honey and Lemon Verbena

Beauty in a work of art entails not just what is included, but what is left out. That is not to say, however, that all ornament is excess, as some Modernists in the last century believed. While nature is perfect in itself, art is nature acted upon by imagination. Art is the result of a will that strives alternately towards purity or towards adornment, and adornment properly bestowed becomes beautiful. Dvorak is said to have taken birdsong as the source for certain melodies in his "American" string quartet but only the composer's efforts are magnificently and enduringly beautiful—are art.

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