Why I do it.

There are so many reasons why I can & preserve food.  The list is actually quite long.  But there is one reason that outdoes the rest.  And tonight, I felt it strongly and it gave me just the shot in the arm I needed to keep me going.

This weekend, Lanny and I bought 26 ears of corn at the farmers’ market that I shucked, blanched, cut, and froze while he was at work on Saturday.

We also bought 6 pounds of beans ($1.50/lb. at the end of season-wahoo!!) which we canned on Sunday–dilly beans for days & days!  I had some brine left over and room in the canner, so I threw in a couple of pints of super spicy aji peppers as well.

Like I’ve said, I have a long list of reasons why I’ve committed to doing this, but I would be lying if I didn’t admit that it’s tiring work.  After spending so many hours of my weekend in the kitchen, I came home after a long day of work tonight to a pile of pears that needed tending to ASAP and a bucket of tomatoes that need to be canned by tomorrow at the latest.

After devouring a delicious meal of garden kale, pinto beans, red potatoes, and fresh tomatoes (courtesy of my wonderful partner), Lanny and I dug deep for energy, and cooked down about 5 pounds of pears from our tree into pearsauce (like applesauce, but with pears).  As the smell filled the house, and we cranked away using my mom’s old food mill, I started to feel the feeling I chase in all my hours of canning: I felt my Grandma Swartzentruber nearby.

One of my grandma’s specialties was her most delicious applesauce which she made from good ol’ Ohio Yellow Transparent apples.  She canned and froze it– but everyone’s favorite was always the frozen version.  It’s impossible for me to eat applesauce without thinking of her, and comparing it to hers.  For as long as I live, one of my all time favorite meals will always be warm Grandma Noodles with a plop of frozen Grandma Applesauce on top.  Makes my stomach growl just thinking of it even after that hearty meal.

Tonight, after a long session of standing over the stove sampling and mmming and sampling and mmming, I grabbed a few of my Grandma’s old freezer containers that I selected out of her basement storage after she passed away, and spooned the pearsauce into them. As I went to secure the lid, I looked down to see “baked corn” in her handwriting  inscribed in sharpie on the upper right hand of the yellow plastic. My eyes swelled up, and I just lost it.  I stood there with my hands where hers had once been, and just howled.

Labelled: 83, Baked Corn, 95.

I miss her so, so much.  I hate that I didn’t learn the art of food preservation from her.  I will never get over my regret of that.  And it breaks my heart that she can’t see my house, our garden, my stores of food in the basement and the freezer.  Just rips me right up. But I also know that she’d be so proud of me for carrying on this labor-intensive practice.  And one thing is for sure– I will continue to spend hours upon hours every summer prepping food, washing jars & lids, burning my hands on my canner lid (will I never learn?), waiting, labeling, etc. for as long as I am physically able, and if I only feel her presence once every dozen times, it will always be worth it.  I love her.  I miss her.  I hope to be like her.

And that’s really why I do it.

Post by Amanda

Jalapeños en Escabeche

So!  With all of the lovely house things happening, I have yet to do one of my most beloved summer activities: canning.  Putting up the harvest for the winter months has become so dear to me.  I come from a long line of food preservers; however, I sadly learned precious little about food preservation from my Mennonite grandmothers.  My sadness over that missed opportunity kept me from canning for a while until I decided to just teach myself a few years back.  I’m still a newbie who gets scared and stressed about the whole process, but it has come to mean so much to me that I’m determined to stick with it, learn from my mistakes, and power through.  The connection I feel to my ancestors, the farm, and food when I’m canning is a feeling that is otherwise hard to come by in my modern American life, and I refuse to give that up just because canning takes time and is much less convenient than buying commercially canned goods.

Since our jalapeño plant was bursting with gorgeous dark green peppers, I decided to try my hand at a favorite Mexican condiment: Jalapeños en Escabeche.  A staple on the Mexican table, these pickled Jalepeños are usually joined by onions, carrots, garlic, and herbs in the jar.  Sometimes cauliflower.  And I LOVE cauliflower.  So after some recipe research, we settled on a game plan, harvested what we could from our garden, and made a quick trip to the farmers’ market for the rest.

Pretty, pretty plant!

Here’s the basics (slightly adapted from here):

Jalapeños en Escabeche 

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb jalapeño peppers (we got 15.9 oz from the garden!  success!)
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 2 medium white onions, thickly chopped
  • 3 medium carrots, peeled and thickly sliced diagonally
  • florets from half a cauliflower
  • 1.5 heads garlic, cloves separated and peeled
  • 5 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 3 Tbsp pickling salt
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 4 springs fresh oregano
  • 6 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 Tbsp sugar

From our garden: jalapeños and herbs
From the Farmers’ Market: garlic, onions, carrots
From the grocery: vinegar, olive oil, pickling salt, sugar, bay leaves, cauliflower

Steps:

1 Wash peppers, leaving the stems intact. Cut an X into each pepper so the brine will penetrate and do its pickling magic.

I realize now that these X’s are usually cut in the tips of the peppers, but oh well…

2 Heat oil in a large pot. Add the peppers, onions, carrots, cauliflower, and garlic. Heat over medium for 10 minutes, occasionally turning.

3 Add the vinegar, salt, sugar, and herbs and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes.  Peppers need to be fully cooked for safety in this recipe.  They’re cooked when they are a dull, olive color like below.

4 Pack veggies into 5 pint-sized sterilized jars. Top with the brine, leaving a 1/2 inch headspace, and seal. Process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.

Filling jars.

The aroma is invigorating.

Lanny always does the honors of making sure all the air bubbles are released before we put the lids on.

Sitting in a quiet corner of the counter to cool for 24 hours.

I’m a little less than excited about how mushy this recipe appears to be as I love a good toothy escabeche, but we’ll see how it goes.  There was about a half a pint extra which we sampled instead of canning.  It’s obviously not pickled yet, but Oh My Is it Delicious.  I also sampled a raw jalapeño when we were picking them this morning and WOWZA are these peppers ever spicy.  Jalapeños can vary greatly in spiciness levels, but usually tend to be a bit on the milder side.  Well with the crazy heat we’ve had this year, these suckers are HOT.  My lips are still tingling.

I’ll be sure to report back when we break open a jar of these this winter after coming in from shoveling piles of snow off the driveway!

Post by Amanda