Sunday, May 29, 2011


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     What a lovely surprise – two quarts of strawberries hand-delivered by Paul’s parents, Gayle and Richard. They have a home in the bucolic town of Bethel, Delaware surrounded by farmland and they always bring us the season’s first offerings of strawberries, sweet corn, and melons.

      Of course, strawberries have been on my mind since gathering the season’s first stalks of rhubarb, and I already knew exactly what I was going to do with them – put by a small batch of Sherried Strawberry Jam.

   Turning fruits into jams is one of my favorite spring and summer time activities. Homemade jams and jellies not only make great gifts, but are fantastic bases for sauces and glazes, and of course, are perfect for slathering on top of bread or toast. The traditional way to make jams and jellies is to use LOTS of sugar, not only to add sweetness but also to help the fruits jell. The problem with this old-fashioned method is that you have to cook the fruit so long you cook much of the nutritional goodness right out of the batches ending up with a sugary syrup. Delicious, but...

     Over the years I have moved away from using sugar (although I will sometimes use small amounts of raw sugar) to sweetening my jams with honey, and experimented pairing other flavors with the fruits.  My favorite pairings are blueberries with ginger, and peaches with nutmeg, though raspberries and blackberries I do prefer the old-fashioned way. For strawberries I like the bouquet of a dry sherry.

     Sherry is a fortified wine that originated in the town of Jerez/Xérès (pronounced Sherish) in southern Spain. The term dry, when used with wine, refers to the absence of sugar. Without sugar to coat the mouth, masking the acid and tannins, your mouth will dry out. However, I've discovered coupled with  honey, the hint of dry sherry enhances the flavor of the strawberries without drying out your taste buds or overwhelming them with the syrupy sweetness of sugar .If you prefer you could substitute a sweeter sherry. Cream Sherry is an Oloroso sweetened with rich Pedro Ximenez grapes. Its aroma is round, crisp and velvety. An ideal dessert aperitif, this sherry blends deliciously with the strawberries. Make sure to omit the honey or you might find the sweetness overwhelming.     I also add a splash of Cider Vinegar and a dash of butter to this recipe. The vinegar enhances the flavors also acting as a natural preservative, while the butter helps keep the bubbling to a minimum when bringing the batch to a boil thereby minimizing the amount of air bubbles in the mixture. One of the most important tenets of pickling and preserving is keeping air in the canning jars to aid in preventing spoilage.



2 quarts Strawberries - Hulled and cut into halves or quarters

2 Tablespoons Honey

1/4 Cup Sherry

2 Tablespoons Cider Vinegar (optional)

2 teaspoons Butter (optional)

1.75 oz. No Sugar Needed Pectin


Review "Processing Instructions" included with box of pectin. Make sure your hot water bath has already been brought to a boil, then reduce heat to medium before starting next step.

In a non-reactive saucepan large enough to comfortably hold strawberries, heat Sherry, Cider Vinegar, Honey, and Butter over medium heat, stirring to combine ingredients. 

Add washed, hulled, and cut strawberries to mixture. (Don't worry, they will release their juices and provide plenty of liquid) Bring to a full boil over high heat stirring constantly, adding pectin to mixture and stirring in as strawberries release their juice.  Once mixture has reached a full, rolling boil, continue to boil for 1 minute.

Remove from heat.  The butter should have keep the mixture from foaming, but if there is some foam, skim off. Ladle into hot, sterilized canning jars to 1/4 inch of rim. Use funnel to keep edge of jars clean. Cap.  Process in hot water bath according to instructions.

As usual, this is a small batch recipe, you should end up with 2 - 3 quarts of jam (or 4 - 6 pints).  I recommend using the wide mouth jars.  If you end up with a jar that is not quite full, cap, let cool overnight ( no hot water bath required ) then place in the refrigerator for immediate use.  This jam will not be 'super sweet', like many of you may be used to.  If you would like a sweeter flavor switch the Dry Sherry to Sweet Sherry, omit the Cider Vinegar, and add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of Raw Sugar.

Fruits vary a great deal in their natural pectin content. In order to make fruit jams and jellies adding pectin is usually necessary. Raspberries and blueberries, for instance, are low in pectin, while apples, citrus fruits, cranberries, and currants are high. 

Fortunately if you don't know how to make your own, prepared pectin is readily available - it is completely natural, safe, and pectin is necessary for getting numbers of fruits to ‘jell’.  For this recipe you will need one package of the "No Sugar Needed Pectin" offered by the Ball Company.

Hot Water Bath or Pressure Canning ?

Monday, May 16, 2011


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A spring treasure, rhubarb, the season’s first, and in my case favorite “fruit”, is delicious and good for you. It can be enjoyed throughout the summer, but as far as I am concerned springtime is the best time for rhubarb.

Botanically, rhubarb is a vegetable. A close relative of garden sorrel, rhubarb’s long red stalks are crisp when raw, but cook down into a mush that is perfect for preserves, relishes, chutneys, sauces, and yes, pies.

Rhubarb is often found in recipes that interplay sweet and sour. Affectionately known as the “pie plant”, its classic pairing is with strawberries, as in Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie, but there are so many other culinary possibilities to explore, like pickled rhubarb or rhubarb chutney.

Alice Waters, who likens the tart-flavored veggie to “the smell of earth in spring,” is a fan. Known for its diuretic and anti-inflammatory properties, rhubarb has long been used in natural medicine. Also worth noting, rhubarb is low in calories and high in calcium (almost a third of your recommended daily amount) and potassium, plus minerals, fiber, folate, with plenty of vitamins and iron too, just don't eat the leaves, they are poisonous.




1 pound trimmed Rhubarb

2 Cups Apple Cider Vinegar

1/2 Cup Honey

1/2-inch piece Ginger, peeled and thinly sliced

1 Tablespoon Kosher Salt

2 dried Chili Peppers

1 teaspoon whole Cloves

4 Whole Allspice


Boil vinegar, honey, salt, ginger and spices until honey and salt dissolve completely(approximately 5 minutes after coming to a slow boil).

Cut rhubarb into batons long enough to fill each jar. For half-pint jars or smaller, slice rhubarb into half-inch pieces.

Pack Rhubarb into sterilized jars distributing the spices as evenly as possible.

Pour pickling brine over fruit, screw on lids, and allow to cool.

Refrigerate for six months or more.

Note: This pickle is best refrigerated, though it can go through a canning process, (Hot Water Bath for 10 minutes) which will soften the fruit to mush, but is delicious on top of a baked brie, or rolled into a pork tenderloin, stuffed into pork chops, blended with cream cheese, perfect for tossing on summer salads - the possibilites are endless.



2 pounds Rhubarb, trimmed and peeled

2 cups Raw Sugar

1 3/4 cups Cider Vinegar

1 teaspoon Ground Ginger

4 teaspoon Yellow Mustard Seeds (optional)

6 Cloves

1 Cinnamon Stick or 1/4 teaspoon Ground Cinnamon

Zest and Juice of 1 Orange


Cut the Rhubarb into 1 and 2 inch pieces. Do not peel.

Over medium heat dissolve the sugar in the vinegar; add the zest and juice of the orange, and  the ginger, mustard seeds, cloves, and cinnamon.

Bring to a slow boil. Simmer carefully for 10 minutes.

Place Rhubarb (same as recipe above) carefully in sterilized jars. Reduce the liquid by boiling until syrupy.

Pour the syrup into sterilized jars to ¼ inch and seal.

Then either let cool and place in refrigerator for use up to 6 months OR cure in boiling hot water bath for 15 minutes and keep on pantry shelf for up to one year.


I found this recipe in an older issue of New Zealand Woman’s Weekly. They called this a pickle, but it seems a bit more chutney-like to me, so my version is called Rhubarb Chutney. I did the conversions for you. This one I am finishing in a hot water bath and putting on the pantry shelf for gifts. Of course, the article noted that this recipe goes quite well with spring lamb.


2 pounds Rhubarb

1 pound Videlia Onions

2 tablespoons Kosher Salt

2-1/2cups White Vinegar

2 cups Brown Sugar

1 tablespoon Curry Powder

1 tablespoon Dry Mustard Powder

1/2 teaspoon Ground White Pepper

1/2 Cup Raisins or Dried Cranberries

plus 2 Tablespoons Cornflour

2 Tablespoons White Vinegar


Wash rhubarb. Trim ends, removing any leaves. Cut into 2 inch pieces. Place in a non-metallic bowl. Peel onions and chop roughly. Place onions in a second non-metallic bowl. Sprinkle salt over rhubarb and onion. Cover both with warm water and leave for six hours or overnight.

Bring undrained onion mixture to the boil in a large saucepan. Add raisins (or cranberries), rinse and drain Rhubarb and add to onion mixture with vinegar. Cook until rhubarb is soft.

Stir in sugar, curry powder, mustard and pepper. Return to the boil.

In small bowl whisk cornflour and second measure of vinegar to form a paste. Stir slowly into hot Rhubarb mixture and let boil gently until thick.

Spoon into hot, clean jars and seal. Cure in Hot Water Bath for 15 minutes. Keep in pantry for up to one year.

Makes 6 cups

You may choose to preserve food at home to save money, to have greater control over what you consume, or just for the joy of it. Regardless of the reasons, it is important to do it safely. Using the proper equipment, as well as following recommended guidelines and recipes can ensure that the food you preserve at home is safe and delicious.

Safe Canning Guidelines

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


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Ramps (allium tricoccum), also known as spring onion, ramson, wild leek, wild garlic, or in French, ail sauvage and ail des bois - are an early spring vegetable native to eastern North America. A wild onion of the amaryllis family, this plant has broad, smooth leaves often with dark purple or burgundy tints on the lower stems, and a scallion-like stalk and bulb. The green leaves are milder in flavor than the bulb; the entire plant gives off distinctive garlic, onion-y odor. Ramps possess a unique taste, a cross between a strong scallion, garlic, and leek, hence their culinary appeal.

Ramps were highly prized by the American Indians in part because of their high vitamin content and blood-cleansing properties. The Cherokee boiled or fried the young plants; the Iroquois ate them, and both the Objibwa and Menominee dried ramps to be stored for winter months.

The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink: With More Than 500 Recipes for American ClassicsAccording to John Mariani, author of "The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink," the English word ramp comes from the word "rams," or "ramson," an Elizabethan dialect for the wild garlic. First mentioned in English print in 1530, the word ramp was used earlier by immigrants to the southern Appalachian Mountains.

Because they are one of the first plants to emerge in the spring, ramps are celebrated in many Appalachian festivals. In central Appalachia, ramps are fried with potatoes in bacon fat or scrambled with eggs and served with bacon, pinto beans, and cornbread. Ramps can also be used in soups and other foods in place of onions and garlic, or pickled, which is, of course, what I am going to do with them.

I go foraging and collect ramps on my own whenever I can, but you can often find them at your local Farmer's Market.  There are numerous websites and articles with recipes for pickling these spring greens. I perused them all and then used my ‘pickling know-how’ keeping in mind my personal tastes, to create a brine I thought would enhance, not overwhelm their natural flavor. I chose rice wine vinegar because it is mild in taste, but a white wine vinegar would work just as well.


1 Cup Rice Wine Vinegar

1 Cup Water

1/2 Cup Raw Sugar

1/4 Cup Honey

1/2 teaspoon each - Coriander, Mustard, and mixed Peppercorn Seeds

1 dried, crushed Bay Leaf

3 Allspice Seeds

1 Lb. Cleaned Ramps (leaves removed leaving just a touch of green)

Clean ramps and cut off green leaves. Set aside.  ( I chop and freeze the greens to use later as seasoning in soup stocks or other dishes). Blanch in heavily salted water (approximately 45 seconds ) immediately immerse in ice water bath.

Prepare pickling brine by combining vinegar, water, sugar and honey.  Bring to a boil.  Once sugar is completely dissolved add spices and remove from heat.

Carefully pack blanched ramps into sterilized canning jar (for 1 pound I used a half liter container). Pour brine over ramps to 1/4 inch of rim. Seal.

Either place in refrigerator and use after they rest for 5 days OR follow your safe canning procedures and process in a  Hot Water Bath for 10 minutes.

Keep in the pantry for up to one year.