Yes, You Can Can!

Can we talk about how it is almost October?

Where has September gone!?

My September, so far, can be summed up pretty quickly: Work and canning.

I recently told a few women at work that I needed to get some canning done over the weekend. They stared at me with blank faces.

“Claire, don’t take this the wrong way,” one of the ladies started, “You just don’t…hmm? How should I say this? You don’t seem like the kind of girl who would be into canning.”

Another chimmed in, “Yeah. I would never think you raised chickens or had a garden.”

The first lady continued, “You’re just really domestic. It’s just you don’t look like a girl who would do that. You are young and… pretty.”

Embarrassment burned in my cheeks and with a little laugh, I quickly changed the subject.

I got back to my office and began to question everything.

… Do I come off as a young and dainty ditz who only cares about my appearance?

What does someone with chickens look like?

… Okay, stereo-typically speaking, probably not like me in my business casual attire. Sure.

What does someone who cans look like?

That’s when it hit me.

Those women were imagining their grandmothers.

Those middle age women may have never canned because they didn’t have to. Their grandmothers, before food processing reached its prevalence, had to.

While canning today is not mandatory, it sure is rewarding. Not to mention, fun!

I recently purchased Linana Krissoff’s, Canning for a New Generation. The tips, recipes and photos all looked great. Plus, it just seemed appropriate… 😉

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It’s a great resource for newbie canners.

There are also tons of other great resources all over the internet, but be cautious in your searches. Anyone can write a blog (… this can be a positive thing too. I am living proof!) and canning incorrectly can potentially be dangerous as botulism can live and grow in improperly processed cans. Eek!

That being said, don’t be too scared to can at home. Just do your homework and study up.

I had never canned anything before this summer and would suggest checking out Ball Jar’s website or the USDA’s recommendations found here: http://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/publications_usda.html

Here are a few other good things I picked up from my rookie canning adventures:

Make sure you have all the tools you need. I have a canning kit that has a jar lifter, a funnel, a magnetic lid lifter, and a jar wrench. These kits are sold at any kitchen or home improvement stores. This time of year is a great time to get a canning kit on sale. I got ours a year ago at an end of season sale at a major discount.

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The funnel is great for keeping products in the jar and off the rims.

The funnel is great for keeping products in the jar and off the rims.

The magnet helps place the lids onto the jars without using your fingers.

The magnet helps place the lids onto the jars without using your fingers.

Tongs are key when canning.  It helps in placing jars into the water bath and removing them at the end of processing.

Tongs are key when canning. It helps in placing jars into the water bath and removing them at the end of processing.

I also use water bath, which is a huge pot. It can take some time to bring to a boil, so plan accordingly.

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Be sure you are working with clean jars. I always inspect the jars before sterilizing them in the water bath for chips that could prevent the lids from sealing.

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Jars and rings can be reused, lids cannot. Ball sell’s lids individually so you don’t have to invest in new jars every year.

There are a lot of seasoning packets that make creating different flavors of pickles, salsas, and sauces easy. They also include cooking times for the product you are creating so it takes out a lot of the guess work. I used these often, but did manage to create a handful of batches from scratch.

Once canning is complete, let jars sit. I leave ours alone on a cooling rack for twelve hours just to ensure they seal correctly.

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Finally, be certain to do a victory dance for every “Pop!” you hear indicating the jar has sealed…!

Bonus Tip from Adam: Be prepared for a lot of dishes.

… I laughed when he told me to add this. It’s funny and true. We did it 100% without a dishwasher because our house is new and we don’t have power in our island yet. If we can do it, you can do it. (Although, I am sure a dishwasher helps.)

Even with the many rounds of dishes, canning is so gratifying.

I look at our dining room table, covered in Ball jars and smile.

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The sauces and salsa’s made from our garden ingredients will be welcome in the winter when a fresh, flavorful tomato is hard to come by. I also can’t help but wonder if this will help keep our grocery bills down.

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Don’t be scared or intimated.

Break down the stereotype.

You can can!

... And can in Charlotte York style!

… And can in Charlotte York style!

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Sunday Funday.

Happy First Football Sunday!

… Or Merry Christmas, if you are speaking with my husband.

Adam looks forward to this day all year long.

With harvest picking up, Sunday’s are his only day to relax and not worry (…too much) about work.

Adam and I have established a little bit of a tradition for early Sunday afternoon football games that date back to my first apartment in Indianapolis. It’s fabulous. We take our time waking up, make brunch, throw something in the crock pot for an early dinner after the game, all while drinking Bloody Mary’s.

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Adam has spent the last few years trying to perfect the Bloody Mary.

And he really has done some research. He has befriended bartenders and expert tailgaters at football games and NASCAR races. (AKA all the professionals in this field.)

Ingredients have included everything from Pepper and Bacon vodka, pickle juice, horseradish, Worcestershire sauce, pickled okra, bacon and many others.

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PS- it’s been a really hard job being the taste tester for all these cocktails…

Adam’s grandmother recently shared her recipe for tomato juice with me after seeing how tomatoes were taking over my counter tops. While reading through the ingredients, I thought how it would make a great Bloody Mary base.

When I shared this with Adam, his passion for the perfect Bloody Mary came to life and he instantly got to work canning his own Bloody Mary mix.

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Here is what he did:

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Ingredients:

Approximately 20 Tomatoes (Adam used a few different kinds, including Roma and Beefsteak)
Two cloves garlic, minced
Two yellow onions, minced
Three ribs celery, chopped
1 Bell pepper, chopped
1 Poblano pepper, chopped (Any spicy pepper, like a jalapeno, would work)
1/3 cup prepared horseradish (Not horseradish sauce)
1 ½ teaspoons of crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon Tobasco (Any red pepper sauce could work)
¼ cup sugar
1/3 cup lemon juice
½ tablespoon salt
½ tablespoon celery salt

Heat tomatoes in boiling water for about three minutes. Place immediately into ice water bath. Core, skin and cut tomatoes into wedges.

Add all ingredients, including blanched tomatoes, to a large stock pot. Cook over medium heat. Simmer for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Vegetables should cook down and turn to juice.

Strain (we used a mesh strainer), pushing out as much juice as possible. After straining, return juice to the pot and bring strained tomato juice to a boil.

Put juice into 1-quart jars. (Make sure jars are clean and sanitized before processing begins. Ensure all lids are clean and unused.)
Process in boiling water bath with a half inch of water over the top of the sealed jar for forty minutes.

Remove from water bath and place on cooling rack for at least four hours. Make sure each jar seals. If jar does not seal, consume the mix in the next three days.

Today we tried to Bloody Mary mix for the first time. We mixed in about a shot glass of vodka and a splash of spicy pickle juice.

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Perfectionist Adam said he liked them, but he still needed to work on it as he dug through the fridge for more Tobasco.

... annoying photographer.  I know...

… annoying photographer. I know…

I, however, thought they were great. I loved the fresh flavor. It didn’t taste watered down or too salty. The pickle juice was perfect. There was enough spice to keep it interesting. Perfect.

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And the Colts won! So, who knows?! Maybe this Bloody also has a splash of luck.

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A Corny Post.

I first visited the home Adam grew up in about five years ago. We were about to go on a canoe trip and he needed to pick up some of his camping supplies. While there, he also decided to change the oil in his truck.

(… I have said it before and I will say it again: The guy is handy.)

It was pre smart phones so I got bored rather quickly. While he was elbow deep in his truck, I decided to walk around. His childhood home was surrounded by fields that are farmed each year rotating between soybeans and corn. That year it was corn. We were there in late August and the corn was as tall as Adam.

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As I walked towards the edge of the driveway and up to the start of the corn field, I remember being so surprised. Each stalk only had one ear, maybe two, of corn.

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Really? That’s it?

As a Midwestern girl, born and raised, I have driven on highways surrounded by corn fields all my life. I could have sworn there were at least six ears to a stalk.

I walked back into the garage and squatted down to Adam’s level.

“Hey Bud. Random question… Are there really only one or two ears of corn on a corn stalk?” I asked.

Adam slid out from under his truck with a confused look on his face.

“Well, I thought there would be, like, six or seven ears. The corn out there only has one.” I tried to explain, what apparently was, a weird question.

“Yep. Just one. Sometimes two. Depends.”

Hmm, I thought looking back at the field.

Field corn surrounding our new home.  (And the chickens.  Arn't they cute?!)

Field corn surrounding our new home. (And the chickens. Arn’t they cute?!)

Now I was the confused one. “It seems kind of inefficient. It’s just, a stalk takes up a lot of space. And you only get one ear?”

“Yep,” Adam said, sliding back under the truck.

Still looking out at the corn, still perplexed, I asked another question: “So, when can we eat it?”

Adam laughed.

“Babe. We won’t eat that. That’s not sweet corn. It’s field corn. Sweet corn is a different kind of plant. It’s mainly grown in the south.”

Umm. What?

All these years of driving around Illinois, Indiana and Ohio I thought I was looking at what would wind up at a picnic and here I am, at twenty-one years old, learning all this?

Later, I shared my newfound knowledge with my east coast raised father. In his mid fifties, he had the same reaction to the news that corn stalks only have one or two ears: “Really? Never knew that. That seems inefficient.”

That’s what I am saying..!

However, he was in on the sweet corn versus field corn thing…

And while Indiana is home to acres of field corn that will eventually become oils or ethanol, many farmers and home gardeners in Indiana do grow sweet corn.

However, this year, Adam and I were not one of them.

Sweet corn is a little challenging to grow. Its success relies on the amount of rain during the growing season and the amount of attention the grower is able to give it. Two things we couldn’t guarantee at the beginning of the summer.

But, it was okay. We also knew we wouldn’t be without corn. Everyone around us grows sweet corn. It pops up on every other corner within ten miles of our home at temporary farm stands throughout the late summer.

Fortunaly, rain was not an issue this summer. Everyone who grew sweet corn had success. Many of Adam’s clients grew sweet corn and he would receive ears of it by the bushel every day. Free of charge.

We couldn’t eat it fast enough so we decided to freeze it. Freezing any vegetable, especially corn, is a great way to lock in fresh, natural flavor.

Here is how we did it:

Note: You want to either eat or process corn as soon as possible. The longer ears of corn sit untouched the more nutrients and flavor are lost.

Step One: Shuck all the corn. Pull all greens and silks from the ears.

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Step Two: Get set up. Bring a pot to a boil and get a bowl of ice and water ready. We actually used a clean cooler filled with ice water because we were working with so much corn.

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Step Three: Boil corn for about five minutes.

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Step Four: Remove corn from boiling water and immediately place into ice water. This will stop the cooking process and ensure all the sweet corn flavor that you know and love will remain with the corn.

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Step Five: Remove corn from ice water after about five minutes. Remove kernels from corn cob.

There are a lot of neat gadgets out there to make the removal of corn kernels easy, but a knife works just fine. What we did here was turn a small bowl upside down and place in the center a large skillet. Running the knife along the cob as it’s held on top of the small bowl, the kernels will fall into the skillet making collecting the kernels (and clean up) easy.

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Step Six: Place corn onto baking sheets and freeze. Once frozen, use a spatula to remove corn from baking sheet and fill into freezer bags, squeezing out as much air as possible. Keep in the freezer for up to a year.

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The flavor of sweet corn frozen at home is so much sweeter and authentic than corn from major frozen vegetable companies. This is because those companies remove so much of the corn’s natural sugars in their processing as it can make their continually used equipment very sticky. Not to mention, they would have to get the corn frozen much more quickly than they do. Otherwise, they are going to go into whiskey making business fast.

But there are some businesses trying to break the traditional manufactured sweet corn mold.

Last week, I had the opportunity to meet two incredibly inspiring Indiana entrepreneurs who are trying to bring the “Home-Preserved” fresh flavor of sweet corn to the commercial market. I even got to tour their brand new processing facility.

Working the big hair net on the tour... Looking good, right?!

Working the big hair net on the tour… Looking good, right?!

Through their new business, Husk, they are purchasing sweet corn straight from farmers just around the corner from their processing plant. With a little creativity (Example of this? French friers full of boiling water versus oil to cook the many corn cobs received every day.) and a ton of motivation they are changing the frozen corn market in Indiana.

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Since their inception at the start of this year’s sweet corn season, they have cut and frozen 60,000 pounds of sweet corn. Check them out: http://huskfoods.com/

And, Hoosiers, If you can’t find their product at your favorite grocery store, request it!