A little more on root cellaring

carrotsA few weeks back, I was interviewed for an article in the Boulder Daily Camera called Preserving Your Roots about home root cellaring. I got quite a few questions from friends about one particular part of the article: storing carrots. Since I harvested a full 5-gallon bucket’s worth of carrots this week from our community garden patch, I had the opportunity this weekend to document the process of preparing these carrots for a winter of storage and thought I’d share it here.

Although I have often peeled, chopped (or grated), blanched, and frozen carrots in the past, by April, I’m desperate for something with a bit of crunch. Two years ago, I tried taking the last of the late fall carrots from the farmer’s market, sealing them tight in zip-top bags, and storing them in our extra fridge. They lasted until March, but took up a ton of space that I might have used on another scarce commodity in Colorado winters–good fruit! Read more

My 15 minutes of fame…

If you read the Boulder Daily Camera, you might have seen a familiar face on today’s front cover. Actually, three familiar faces: myself, Gabriel & Lily. I was interviewed last week about my efforts to cellar onions, garlic, squash, and potatoes over the winter using a system of shelving and lidded bins. Little did I know that I’d get a blurb on the front page pointing to a pretty cool story a few pages later! Take a look to learn more about building your own root cellar. And check out another great article on how to figure out what you need to store for the winter.

Home-Canned Bloody Mary Mix

When the garden’s bountiful tomato crop dove-tailed with one of our traditional Friday Afternoon Club gatherings, I decided to get creative in the kitchen. I skimmed through several recipes until I found one that met my requirements for a good home-canned Bloody Mary mix that included all my favorites:

  • Horseradish & hot sauce – if it ain’t spicy, I don’t want it!
  • Multiple types of veggies – I like the depth of flavor that the other veggies add.
  • Other spices – plain salt & pepper doesn’t do it for me either.

The winner was The Best Bloody Mary on Recipezaar and it lived up to its name, especially after a few tweaks:

  • I used home-made vegetarian Worcestershire sauce, also from Recipezaar, because I didn’t have any on hand.
  • In addition to the garlic that is cooked with the vegetables, I added a teaspoon of fresh garlic after cooking.
  • I at least quadrupled the hot sauce (I think I still added some to my finished sample drink before I canned it!)
  • I used Black Butte Porter instead of Guinness, because it’s what I had in my handon hand.
  • Also note that if you’re going to can this instead of drinking it right away, don’t add the booze or the lime juice–add that to taste when you crack the jar open in a few months on a cold winter morning!

Here I would like to digress from recipes to comment on something I’ve noticed as I’ve been canning this season. I’ve really enjoyed trying new recipes that I’ve found on the Internet, but I’m rather appalled at the number of recipes that call for some seriously dubious canning practices. Neither of the recipes I mentioned above are guilty of this, for the record, so I feel like I can point this out without naming any names.

For the record, I learned to can grape juice in a dishwasher close to 10 years ago, so I understand how family traditions can lead to some pretty off-the-wall food preservation techniques. However, if you’re going to post recipes on the Internet, I think there’s a little bit of obligation to provide a safe recipe. For example, turning jam or jelly cans upside down instead of heating them in a canning bath CAN create a seal, but does NOT create the vacuum that is necessary to keep air from coming in contact with your home-preserved food. Same with putting hot liquids & veggies into hot jars and then putting hot lids on those jars. It’s the vacuum, not just the seal, that keeps food from spoiling. For more information, check with your local Cooperative Extension, pick up one of the many excellent books that are available on canning, or check out my canning primer.

So if you’re out looking for recipes on the Internet and find one that you’d like to try that uses one of these dubious canning methods, there’s still hope of canning safely. Let’s use the Bloody Mary Mix as an example. The original author of the recipe had no intentions of canning it, so I needed to come up with instructions that would guarantee a safe result. I consulted my Ball Blue Book of canning and found a recipe for Tomato Garden Juice Blend.

The duration of canning and the need for the addition of acids like lemon juice or citric acid is determined by how acidic the food you’re canning is naturally. Tomatoes are pretty acidic, but I didn’t want to use a plain old tomato juice recipe because there were so many other things in the Bloody Mary Mix. The garden juice blend was ideal because it had carrots onion, parsley, and salt in addition to the tomatoes–similar to the mix I was canning.

In the case of the Bloody Mary Mix, that meant adding 1 T of lemon juice to each pint jar and processing in my canning bath for 50 minutes (note that due to the altitude here, I have to add 10 more minutes to the processing time). A double recipe of the mix easily made 7 pints, and perhaps would have done more if not for my friends and I having a few on Friday afternoon!

Food Preservation 101: Part 3 – Dehydrating

Like canning jars, food dehydrators seem to be regulars at the local thrift shop. I got mine, brand-new with receipts still attached, for a whopping $1.75 at the local thrift store a few years back thanks to a neighbor who volunteers there and snapped it up for me. It’s not fancy and it doesn’t have multiple heat settings like some of the fancier ones, but I’ve gotten a lot more than two dollars’ worth of use out of it in the last few years.

Dehydrating not only adds a bit of variety to the winter pantry, but it also allows you to make things that are a bit more portable than a jar of canned goods. Things like dried tomatoes, apples, or pears make a great snack for the children’s school lunches and are also good for adding to things (tomatoes to soups, the apples and pears to my Christmas mince pies!). And dehydrated food takes up less space in the cupboard which, judging from the endless sea of canning jars in my kitchen, can be a good benefit for the preservation obsessed.

A few tips before you start slicing and dicing everything and putting on the dehydrator:

  • Make sure that food is fresh. I mean, really, really fresh. If the tomato has some bad spots, cut out a generous portion of good tomato around the bad spot. If you don’t, you’ll get off flavors, they won’t last as long, and they might discolor or, worse, spoil. If you wouldn’t can it, don’t dehydrate it.
  • Use citric acid to preserve color and flavor. If you want your preschooler to eat the stuff you dehydrate, it’s best if its the right color. You know, red tomatoes, not brown. Creamy yellowish apples and pears, not brown. Not that I have anything against brown in general, but a quick bath in 1T citric acid dissolved in 4 c of water will keep the brown away. Oh, and skip the expensive fruit fresheners with added sugar, etc. Plain old citric acid from the drug store (the kind I have around the house anyway because I use it to make cheese) works just fine and is less expensive.
  • Slice things evenly so that they dry evenly. I’m notoriously bad at this as my sisters and husband can attest, but I try to be good when I’m prepping food for the dehydrator. If there’s a wet spot in a single apple in your bag, you could get mold and spoilage. Slicing things in even thicknesses really does help. That’s why I have one of those nifty old-school apple corer/slicers. Because I’m just not that precise otherwise.

I think you can tell from my post that tomatoes, apples, and pears are my favorite things to dehydrate, but this year I’m also freezing a whole lot of fruit pulp that would make great sorbet or fruit leather! The children love fruit leather and I don’t do it much because of the messiness factor and the tooth decay factor, but in moderation, it’s a great treat. Herbs also dry really well on the dehydrator, although it’s so dry here that I can just hang them upside down somewhere out of the sunlight and they dry in a day or two.

I’ve also tried lemon peel, raisins, zucchini, and apricots on the dehydrator and although they’re edible, I probably won’t do any more. As usual, the Ball Blue Book has lots of ideas for drying things. As my brother learned when preparing food for my sister’s through-hike of the Appalachian Trail, things like onions and garlic taste great dried but stink up your whole house. Perhaps a solar dehydrator (you know, used outdoors) would be good if you really want to make your own onion or garlic flakes 😉