Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Someday I might learn a lesson, but it's doubtful...

I make the same mistake every year.  Twice a year, actually.  Gardening is fun.  Gardening is a stress reducer.  Gardening is my hobby.  Gardening is an excuse to be outside, not working, not doing chores, enjoying fresh air.

Gardening is certainly not exercise.

But I should still probably warm up first.   Maybe a nice stretch?

Add to that, this year, for the first time, about 15 hours over the next two days, standing in the kitchen, canning the contents of said garden.

It started like this:

It ended like this:

And I, walked away, with this:

That's not even all of it.  That's just Saturday's work. 

  • Pickled green tomatoes (two kinds)
  • Bruscetta topping
  • Yellow tomato chutney
  • Green tomato chutney
  • Rhubarb mint chutney (with frozen rhubarb, to get it out of the fridge)
  • Pickled peppers (not a full peck...)
There's more.  I could go up and check the shelves full of cans in the basement, but that would involve standing.  Which requires quads.  Which I no longer have.

So I will sit here and type. Ass on the couch.  Lap top on my lap.  Glass of wine in hand.  (The wine hinders my typing, but it's mostly worth it.)

I will save the story of my mass canning adventure for another day.  It almost didn't happen anyway.  Canning was my biggest experiment for this year.  It's been interesting, and fun.  To be honest, the experiment isn't really over yet.  Although I am officially done canning for the year, the experiment is really just beginning.  Will I eat all this food I spent hours canning?  Will it be good?  Did I even do it right, or do I have a mass of spoiled food waiting for me in the basement?  I'm excited to have the food in my basement, stocked away for the winter.  I even purchased a textbook on the history of preserving, and I'm hoping to learn more about how this crazy idea started in the first place. 

But it almost never happened. 

Most of the canning I have done has been on a very small scale.  Garnishes, pickles, relish, all stored in small jars.  An accompaniment to the meat and potatoes that will be sustaining me for the winter.

(Speaking of meat and potatoes!  I read in the news paper that I'm supposed to take a garbage can and bury it in the back yard to use as a root cellar - potatoes, turnips, beets, carrots, etc.  Sounds like a boy job.  Jeff?  You want to bury a garbage can in the back yard?!?)

Anywho - I've had one exception to the small jar canning.  Apple pie filling.  This seemed like a great idea in theory.  Apples, spices, and a little bit of sugar.  Put it in a jar.  Pies all year round!  The apples don't need to cook long, only about 5 minutes, and then they need to process for 25 minutes.  Seems like a good time.

Yeah, I forgot to take into account how long it takes to peel 20 lbs of apples.  Seriously.  Could someone buy me one of these for Christmas?  Really.  It's less than $30.  (Also, note that I linked to Sur La Table and not Williams-Sonoma.  My affair is getting pretty serious.)

So I started at about 8:00pm, after dance class.  I had my peeling done by 10:30.  Five minutes of cooking down the apples.  Of course, 25 pounds of apples don't fit into even my largest pot so I've got to cook them in batches.  I didn't take that into account either.  Okay, all the apples are cooked.  Now I have to try to keep them warm while I make the gooey part of the pie filling.  That gets mixed in with the apples.  Crap, wait.  How do I mix this with the apples, when all the apples don't fit in one bowl or pot or anything.  How am I going to keep my ratio of apples to gooey part intact?  Okay, split the cooked apples in half.  Half the apples fit in the biggest pot, but the other half doesn't fit in the second biggest pot.  Damnit.  Okay, half and quarter and another quarter.  Got it.  Pour in the gooey part.  Don't let it get cold; it's getting hard.  Keep moving.  Get them into their jars, and into the boiling water.

Of course, all the jars don't fit in my canning pot at once.  Two batches it is.  It's now midnight.

20 minutes in to processing the first batch and I realize, I didn't add the lemon juice.


So I pull them all out.  I open them all up.  I throw away the lids.  I add the lemon juice.  Back into the boiling water.  Second batch in.  It's now 1:00am.  On a Monday.  I have to go to work tomorrow.

Here's the thing, though.  The second batch has been in for 15 minutes.  Which means the first batch has been out for 15 minutes.  And none of them have gone "plink."  Did I do something wrong?  They were in there long enough.  I put new lids on.  Adding the lemon juice shouldn't have changed anything. 

I'm freaking out.  I'm freaking out, and I just want to go to sleep.  I'm getting sloppy, and that's when it happens.  I'm pulling the second batch jars out of the boiling water.  I'm tired, I'm rushing, I'm tired.  And then... I drop one.  I could see it happen, in slow motion.  I could see it slip out of the tongs.  I bobbled it, a couple times, and then dropped it on my foot.

I shouted, I cursed, and the cat ran away.  I hobbled off, brushed my teeth, and went to bed.  None of the jars had sealed.  I was convinced that the whole wasted night was for nothing.  And I was fully prepared to never can again.

But, in the end, that was all that happened.  I burned the outside of my right foot just a little, but I rubbed it down with aloe and it was better in a week or so.  The jar didn't break, which means I wasn't barefoot, surrounded by hot sticky shards of glass that my dog wanted to eat.  And, when my husband woke me up at 6:00 the next morning to tell me that all of the jars had sealed, it felt a little bit like Christmas.

It got me thinking about the science of why canning works.  The jars hadn't sealed because I was using quarts, which were bigger than anything else I had used before.  Also, all of my previous canning experiments were mostly liquid - vinegar and water surrounding whatever I was pickling or preserving.  This one was packed tightly full of apples, which made it cool slower.  The jar needs to cool, so the contents shrink, creating the vacuum that seals the jar.  Actually, the whole experience is what made my buy the history of preserving book, so, if I learn something new, I guess it was worthwhile.  Anyway, I didn't give up on canning, and now I've got pies through the winter.

I haven't had time to make a pie yet, but I did open up a jar and everything seemed perfect.  The apples were soft, the gooey part gooey.  Overall, a success.  An exhausting, infuriating success, but a success none the less.  The title of this post is "Someday I might learn a lesson, but it's doubtful..." The lesson I originally intended was to stretch before gardening, but maybe there's another lesson here, too.  To read ahead in my directions.  To think about what I'm actually doing, and what tools I need, and how long it will take me.  To not over schedule myself and think I can fit in "big projects" on a Monday night after dance class - just because that's when Jeff has band practice.

These are good lessons.  Maybe I might learn them.

But it's doubtful...

Apple Pie Filling
(From The Art of Preserving)

Makes 7 one-quart jars.  One jar makes one pie

  • 19 lbs apples (L)
  • 7 tablespoons plus 1/2 cup bottled lemon juice
  • 5 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cup corn starch or Clearjel starch (I used corn starch, because I couldn't find the Clearjel not on the internet)
  • 3 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp fresh ground nutmeg
  • 1 tbs ground cloves
  • 5 cups apple juice or apple cider (L)
Have ready hot, clean quart jars and their lids.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.

Put 1/2 cup of the lemon juice in the biggest bowl or pot you have.  Or, if you're like me, you'll need to use two or more bowls, and spread the lemon juice out evenly between them.  Peel, core, and slice the apples, dropping the slices into the bowl and tossing with the lemon juice to keep them from browning.  Add the apples to the water and blanch for one minute.  Drain the slices, and keep warm as best as possible.

In a large, non reactive sauce pan, stir together the sugar, starch, spices, and apple juice.  add 2 1/2 cups water.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently.  Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer, stirring constantly, until slightly thickened - about 1 to 2 minutes.  Be careful, it thickens REALLY quickly.  It will be very thin, and then suddenly it will be so think you'll wonder if you should add more water.

Fold the apples into the sauce and stir until apples are re-warmed, if necessary.

Ladle the hot apple mixture into the jars, adding one tablespoon of lemon juice to each jar, leaving one inch of headspace.  Remove any air bubbles, and adjust the headspace if necessary.  Wipe the rims clean and seal tightly with the lids.

Process the jars for 25 minutes in a boiling water bath.  Sealed jars can be stored in a cool, dark place for up to one year.

I didn't get any pictures in process, as I was too busy flipping out...


  1. I'm so impressed by all of your canning endeavors! Although you probably didn't find it humorous at the time, I had a really good laugh reading about the apple pie experiment. Glad it turned out in the end, and thanks for sharing!

  2. You know, if I actually made apple pies, I would try this. In spite of your mishaps. But definitely not on a weeknight! I might try it next year anyway. It might be good on ice cream.