Last year, I made spiced peach butter, and it was absolutely delicious. I feel as if I’ve been hoarding it in my cupboard, afraid to open it. The next-to-last time I had opened a jar, one of my foster kiddos basically drank it, and I didn’t get any of it. So, I’ve been a little wary of opening one of the few remaining delectable jars until I had the time and opportunity to make something equally tempting to replace them. In that vein, I had been looking forward to this month’s Food in Jars mastery challenge because I was hoping to make pumpkin butter, which seemed a delicious way to welcome autumn.
When I read that August’s challenge was low temperature pasteurization or steam canning, I was equally clueless about both options. What the heck? I knew that pasteurization was something done to milk, and since I make cheese, I know how to see out milks that have been only just pasteurized so I can successfully make cheese. I didn’t think the August skill would have much to do with milk though. Similarly, I know how to steam vegetables, but I definitely didn’t know an iota about using steam to can anything.
My husband and I didn’t make our traditional grocery shopping list when we headed out to the farmers’ market at 7:00 a.m. We usually plan our meals and make the shopping list the night before so we’re armed with an attack plan and don’t get too suckered in by the piles of gorgeous vegetables, fruits, baked goods, and even wine! We head to the farmers’ market first to support local farmers and buy fresh regional produce before we head to our local grocery store to stock up on whatever else we might need that week, such as milk or yogurt. Every now and then when we’re at the farmers’ market, we buy something unexpected. Once, it was several beautiful blueberry bushes. This Saturday, we bought 18 pounds of peach seconds.
While we were on our two-week vacation, the garden was on the cusp of bursting with produce. We kept up with what was growing as we neared our vacation. Mostly. We told our friend who was house-sitting that she could take home all the cucumbers she wanted, but we asked that she chuck any ripe tomatoes into a bag in the freezer if she had the time and inclination. (I’d have offered our peppers, but she’s really allergic… so that suggestion could certainly have been misinterpreted!).
I was beelining to the hold for pick-up shelf at my local library when I passed a display called something akin to “Learn a New Hobby This Summer!” Or maybe it was “Books Designed to Entice Rachel to Stop and Learn a Gazillion New Skills and Improve Others.” Either way, the display title was enough for me to ditch my beeline and spend several minutes flipping through various crafty themed books.
My food-preservation skills have definitely increased since I first tackled marmalade in January with only the vague suspicion that marmalade had something to do with citrus. Similarly, I wasn’t sure what cold pack preserving was, but I knew it had something to do with preserving food that was… umm… cold? Yes, definitely cold.
“Why would you pickle a perfectly good strawberry?” My mother asked me.
Moments earlier, she’d been telling me that I had become a better cook than her (which I protest—adamantly so), and I had texted her a picture of my latest project: pickled strawberries. In the jars, the strawberries looked like rubies against darkness of the balsamic vinegar. I had been rather enamored with their appearance, which is what prompted me to send her the picture. Without knowing what was in the jars, she suggested that the picture was proof I was a better cook. (Again, proposition rejected!)
Once I told her what I had done to those 2½ pound of perfectly good strawberries though, I lost all credibility and comments about my cooking prowess ceased.