Vermont Maple Pickles: The August Food In Jars Mastery Challenge

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.

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18 pounds of peaches, Unknown Quantities of Veggies, and 33 Mason Jars

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.

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What to Do with an Abundance of Green Beans: The Hot-Pack Mastery Challenge

We planted three beds of green beans this year, all different varieties. My Landreth Bush Beans hit the ground running, and we ate delicious fresh green beans in stir fries and as sides before I admitted defeat and canned two quarts of them using the raw-pack method. Now, my Cherokee Trail of Tear and Purple Podded pole beans are producing an equally abundant amount of green beans just in time for the July Food in Jars Mastery Challenge for Hot Pack Preserving.

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Blueberry Maple Jam: A Food-In-Jars-Mastery-Challenge Project

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.

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Lemon Cukes: Cold Pack Preserving Mastery Challenge

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.

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Putting Myself in a Pickling State

“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.

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The Quick Pickle: Food in Jars Mastery Challenge

The entire month of April seems to have flown by, and I’m staring at today’s date wondering where each of those the days has slipped away to. Maybe they’re hiding with all the months that have already disappeared into 2017. What hasn’t vanished is my interest in expanding my canning repertoire. The skill for the April Food in Jars Mastery Challenge is quick pickles.

I know that pickling vegetables was a way that homesteaders historically preserved many vegetables and other miscellanies (pickled pigs feet anyone?) through the winter, but I have never much cared for pickles. As a child, I hated them, and as an adult, I have come to occasionally nosh on a pickle or two if they are served on the side of my sandwich. I’ve just never much cared for them. Heck, I still have a jar of pickled zucchini and yellow squash from two summers ago in my stash of canned goods. If pickles were people, they would be the acquaintances to whom I’m polite and friendly but rarely seek out to chat about where all those sneaky April days had vanished to.

One of my foster kiddos, however, loves pickles. She was as interested at the idea of making her own batch of pickles as she was disappointed that we weren’t growing cucumbers in the garden. So, we walked to the grocery store, picked out some cucumbers and other ingredients for the refrigerator dill pickles, and had at it. Let me tell you, making two pints of quick pickles was as snappy as this month has already been. The cucumbers were swimming in their pickling brine and into the fridge before we knew it. We left them to stew for a few days, and we busted them out for our black-bean burgers this weekend. Even I enjoyed them enough to have two, and that admission has to be saying something for any pickling fiends out there. Maybe I’ll have to try out a few more quick pickle recipes.

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