|Nona and her tomatoes|
It's time again for the Great Canadian Food Experience. Every month we approach a different aspect of Canadian food and it's traditions and what it means to each of us. This month we are talking about preserving, which is clearly a huge part of our Canadian culinary heritage. Any country that enjoys a short growing season and long, harsh winters is going to depend heavily on food preservation and Canada is no different. From salting fish on both coasts to our modern freezers, we have always looked for ways to make our summer bounty carry us through until spring.
I grew up with a mom who never really learned how to cook from her mother who was an amazing cook, baker and preserver. Soft, chewy ginger cookies rolled in grainy sugar, her bread and butter pickles and her pickled beets were my favourite treats that came from my grandmother's kitchen (we called her Meme since my mother was french). Meme could preserve anything. Pepe (my grandfather) had a wonderful green thumb so he would grow all of the fruits and vegetables that Meme would then transform into magical jars of jams, pickles and vegetables. I am going to be painfully honest and admit that I was not overly fond of Meme. She was very a very stern, old school French Canadian woman who believed that children should be seen and not heard. I think the only reason she seemed to like me well enough was the fact that all I did on our visits was sit quietly in the corner and draw. That was her idea of a "good kid". My Pepe was another story and, like my mother, I loved him so much that it hurt. The only reason I didn't write Meme off altogether was that she was basically my pusher and kept this addict flush with jars of beets and pickles. If I wasn't nice and quiet, I wouldn't be rewarded with a box of jars that would clink and clank in the backseat for the entire drive back to the house, taunting me because we couldn't open one up until we got home.
After my grandparents grew too old to maintain their home and generous gardens, they moved into an apartment and Pepe stopped growing while Meme stopped canning. My mom would take me to the Amish farmer's market where we would buy delicious preserves, jams and pickles but she never, ever
|preserving fruit in booze is a fun option|
Now, for someone with such fond memories of her mean, old grandmother's preserves, I only made my very first batch of real jam in my mid forties. Because my kind mom never learned how to preserve and only my crotchety Meme did and so I grew up kind of terrified of the whole idea. It fits in nicely with my fear of killing everyone I love with my food if I screw things up, right? I am probably any psychiatrist's dream patient, what with my fear of sink holes, botulism and spontaneous combustion.
|pickled rhubarb was not 100% succesful but it was in great first try|
My friend, Jen from Piccante Dolce, is an insane preserver and even though she hasn't blogged in ages because she is busy being a new mom, her blog is a goldmine of recipes. If it is edible and it will fit in a jar, she preserves it. When she was getting married, she spent months testing different types of fancy jams and preserves so she could make tiny jars to give as favours at the wedding. I was fortunate to be on the receiving end of her experimentation and every time I saw her, she gave me another jar of something delicious. The gamay noir plum preserves were my absolute favourite and watching her churn out jam after jam without making anyone sick (never mind the pickled asparagus and all other manner of vegetables and jars that she shared with us) inspired me to give it a try.
|caramelized vidalia marmalade|
I went to Canadian Tire (does it get more Canuck than that??) and bought all of my supplies, read a million blogs and books and went to town. I can't even recall what I made at first but it was probably straight forward, perhaps some strawberry jam, that sort of thing. I now make all sorts of fancy jams like spicy honey fig jam, cinnamon yellow plum jam and one of my favourites, caramelized vidalia onion marmalade. For the most part, I stick to small batch recipes because my kitchen is tiny and I have limited space to store these things.
|jars of plum jam|
|canning tomatoes with Nona and Lydia was a huge success|
The only time I have preserved any type of vegetable has occured when I have been invited to do so with another family. I did tomatoes with Nona and Lydia and just a few weeks ago, we made the famous Dicky's Dills with the Dicky family so I feel ready to branch out this winter. First up will be a batch of pickled beets and I am pretty sure I won't be able to come close to matching Meme's, but I am sure going to give it a try.
|Making Dicky's Dills - that's a lot of pickles|
In honour of this grand Canadian culinary tradition, I will share one of my favourite recipes using delicious, local peaches with you:
adapted from Peach Vanilla Jam
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 vanilla bean, scraped
2 tbls finely chopped crystallized ginger
2 tbls lemon juice
1 tsp butter
prep your jars. Since I wasn't processing them, I just threw the two jars i was using into a big pot of boiling water and turned it off and let them sit until I was ready for them.
To get your peaches ready, bring a pot of water to the boil, throw in the peaches and simmer them for a couple of minutes. Remove them with a slotted spoon and throw them in a ice water bath or run them under very cold tap water. This will make it possible to just slip the skins off of them. I don't stress out if the odd bit of skin stays on. Then you chop them up into chunks over the bowl so you don't waste any good juices.
Mix the peaches with the sugars, the lemon juice and the vanilla bean and all the stuff you scraped out of it, the lemon juice, salt and butter and then put that into a heavy pot or an enamelled cast iron pot like a le creuset pot (you just wipe that thing clean after and it conducts the heat so evenly that it makes it perfect for jam making).
clip your candy thermometer to the side of your pot (or use a digital thermometer and keep checking it until it reaches 220F). You know there are a million ways to test your jam but it's so much easier to just keep letting it simmer until it reaches 220F so if you want to make jam, get a good thermometer.
Bring it to a boil over med high heat, stirring pretty constantly and then turn it down to med or med low and let it simmer nicely until it reaches 220F. I have never had it reach this gel point in the amount of time that recipes tells me it will happen because it depends on so many factors like humidity, temperature, where you sit regarding sea level. This recipe said ten minutes but it was longer than that. You can also use the cold plate method if you feel more comfortable with that.
When it's finally at gel point, remove your jars from the pot of hot water and ladle the jam into the hot jars. Wipe the rim with a clean, damp cloth to make sure there is no jam on it and put your lid on. At this point, you will have to store it in the fridge after it cools to room temp. You could also put it into freezer containers and freeze it or you could process it in a water bath if wanted to.