Flynn's blog

Gift Guide: Canner's Best Friends

It's never too late to start canning, and the holidays are the perfect time to share your love of preserving with friends. We've put together a list with some of our favorite canning accoutrements to add to your holiday shopping list. (Disclosure: Affiliate links incuded from which I may make revenue.)

Ball FresTECH
Ball® FreshTECH Automatic Jam & Jelly Maker 
Maybe a little remedial for more experienced jammers, but if you've got someone on your list who's eager to start up as a first-timer, this could be a great tool. And it works -- just see Sean Sullivan's posts for proof

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Review and Giveaway: The Homemade Pantry

With so much interest being focused on homemade food, it seems only natural that curiosity will eventually lead outgoing folks beyond the normal canning and cooking and start looking at ways of making their own versions of those grocery store items we always seem to have around.

In The Homemade Pantry, author Alana Chernila brings us into her admittedly “unexpected” kitchen to share her takes on popular pantry staples. After offering some tool recommendations (air popper, blender, dehydrator, food processor, stand mixer) Chernila tackles the subject of whether or not making all these items at home is actually financially feasible, a subject that often arises when comparing homemade to store bought foods. Her take on it not only concerns cost, but taste, time and thrill as well. She cleverly leaves the decision to the reader since quantifying whether something is “worth it” has more to do with personal taste than the number on your grocery receipt.

Then we move on to a section on making good use of your freezer. Why make enough lasagna for one meal when you can easily make two and store on in the freezer for a later date, saving you time down the road? Vegetables and snacks can also be frozen to extend their shelf life, helping you save that massive amount of green beans you bought on sale a little bit longer.

Once the basics have been covered, we head to the various grocery store aisles on a quest for healthier alternatives to the often preservative laden treats and staples we purchase on a regular basis. A lot of these things would seem like no-brainers to those of us who spend a lot of time in the kitchen: Soups, salad dressing, spice mixes. While others, like the homemade toaster pastries (recipe below), potato chip or fig bar recipes give more experienced cooks something to appreciate as well.

The recipes are easy to follow and well written, and cover a plethora of food types including, soups, cereals, snacks, baking needs, condiments and more. If you've ever thought about making your own ketchup and mustard, you can find out how here. While I never would have taken the time to make my own hot sauce, the recipe offered here makes a nice alternative to the stuff you get in bottles. It also allows you spice it to the perfect amount of hotness for your personal taste.

The chapter on dairy will also be illuminating for a lot of people. Some cheeses, such as cream cheese, mozarella and ricotta may not seem like easy home projects, but with the help of a yoghurt maker, they are somewhat of a breeze. Surprisingly, most of the time involved in cheese making is waiting for the curds to form. Little gems of information like this is where The Homemade Pantry really shines.Read More >

Use Those Jams in Pies and Tarts

With the holidays comes a flurry of baking and entertaining -- all good excuses to use up those home-canned jams you've been squirreling away all year. Pies and tarts are a perfect vehicle for many of your preserved goods, both sweet and savory. We have gathered some favorite recipes from around the web to help you make use of your precious stash.
Linzer Torte
From Not Derby Pie comes a recipe for a classic German Linzer Torte using raspberry jam. If you want to try something a little different, why not replace the raspberry jam with one of your favorite jams.
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But Ya ARE, Blanche

Blanching1With peaches, tomatoes and plums in season right now, you’re probably preparing to do some serious canning and preserving. But, what to do about those pesky thin skins that can add a bitter taste to your food and are so difficult to remove? An experienced canner or pie maker will be able to give you the answer right away: Blanching. It’s the sure fire way to get those skins off without driving yourself crazy.

Trying to scrape off the skins with a traditional peeler can end up removing a lot of the fruit along with the skin or worse, leave you with a hand full squashed, mushy fruit. Blanching can also be used to remove the tough skins from nuts and even prepare certain vegetables, like green beans, for freezing. In this case, the blanching stops the action of the enzymes and bacteria present in the vegetables that can eventually sap their nutrients and noticeably modify the color, taste and texture of your frozen produce.

While blanching isn’t an exact science as the processing times can vary fruit to fruit, there are some very important steps you want to be sure to remember. Here is a breakdown of the blanching process for easy fruit skin removal.Read More >

Review and Giveaway: "Preserving With Friends" DVD

Preserving With FriendsLooking to further explore the world of preserving and canning (and in particular, fermentation) I sat down with a copy of "Preserving With Friends," a DVD that covers pretty much everything you ever wanted to know about preserving food. Host Harriet Fasenfest ("A Householder’s Guide to the Universe") takes you through the basics of water bath canning and making a few jam recipes before hauling out the big guns: Her friends. Harriet has hand-picked her friends who are experts on various subjects ranging from pressure canning to pickling to fermentation. All of her guests (and Harriet herself) are very knowledgeable and I learned quite a bit more than I originally bargained for.

Several chapters really jumped out at me, including "The Alchemy of Jam Making," in which Harriet explains all the elements of making a really good jam and how they work together. She follows this up with a great recipe for homemade pectin using crabapples. She further explains how to can whole fruits and vegetables and the different methods for each.Read More >

Thrift Stores: The Frugal Canner’s Best Friend

Thrift Store Sign Photo: Thrift Store Sign by pixeljones via Flickr

While canning can be an efficient, money-saving task if you’ve got all the equipment, the initial cost of getting what you need can seem daunting for a first-timer. However, I’m here to tell you that there is a better, cheaper way: The thrift store!

Really amazing kitchen implements end up at the thrift store all the time, and an eagle-eyed shopper can find some amazing deals. I was able to get my entire initial canning setup from the thrift store (including jars) for less than $25. Here’s a small list of some of the things I’ve found and their comparative prices at retail outlets.Read More >

Review and Giveaway: "Tart and Sweet"

tartandsweet250 Having relatively recently come to the world of canning, I wish I had had a book like "Tart and Sweet" from the beginning. The internet is full of wildly varying information, and the Ball Blue Book  is great if not a bit clinically matter-of-fact, but it's nice to have a resource that both informs and inspires.

Authors Kelly Geary (Sweet Deliverance, NYC) and Jessie Knadler waste no time getting right to the basics: The first four chapters are devoted specifically to subjects like a Step by Step Water Bath Canning Guide and a Pickle Primer. Everything you need to know to get started is here, from tools to an acidity chart, an explanation of head space and much more. Plus, it’s explained in an easy, conversational tone and accompanied by some really beautiful pictures by photographer Ellen Silverman. Read More >

Help Us Preserve Your Surplus Food (WPA Poster)

HelpUsPreserve Credit: WPA Posters, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-USZC2-5601

During the '30s, the government created the Works Project Administration (WPA) which provided thousands of jobs under "The New Deal." The arts were highly encouraged as was supporting the war effort through farming, victory gardens and preserving food for the troops.

The distinctive art style of the WPA posters makes them instantly recognizable, and I think they make terrific decoration for any vintage kitchen. I’ve perused the Library of Congress' files and pulled some of my (rights-free) favorites which I will post here once in a while for you to peruse. I hope you enjoy this little glimpse into the past as much as I do.

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Cherry Pitters: The Right Tool for the Job

cherrypitters

FlynnDeMarco

Editor's note: I'm thrilled to introduce my pal Flynn De Marco as a contributor to the site. Flynn comes with a wealth of community management and writing experience, having founded and run Gay Gamer, and written for Kotaku, Gawker's gaming news site. In recent years, Flynn has also been bitten by the DIY food bug, as have we all, and has become a devotee of Punk Domestics. He'll be contributing as Fruit Brute, focusing on tool roundups (such as this one), community profiles and more, and with his amply tatted arms, will be helping to keep the punk in Punk Domestics. Welcome, Flynn! --Sean

Ah, the cherry pitter. That oft-neglected kitchen gadget that takes up room in your already full kitchen drawer. But if you are a canner and faced with 20 pounds of cherries that need to be pitted in a hurry, this little gadget can be your best friend.

Like most kitchen gadgets, there are plenty of styles across a broad price range. Which one is right for you is really a matter of personal preference, but here are a few choices to get you pointed in the right direction if you are considering a purchase.Read More >