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Put 'em Up!
A Comprehensive Home Preserving Guide for the Creative Cook, from Drying and Freezing to Canning and Pickling
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With simple step-by-step instructions and 175 delicious recipes, this book will have even the timidest beginners filling pantries and freezers in no time! Put ’em Up! includes complete how-to information for every kind of preserving: refrigerating, freezing, air- and oven-drying, cold- and hot-pack canning, and pickling. Sherri Brooks Vinton includes recipes that range from the contemporary and daring — Wasabi Beans and Salsa Verde — to the very best versions of tried-and-true favorites, including Classic Crock Pickles and Orange Marmalade.
Part One: Techniques
Food Preparation Methods
It all started innocently enough. I didn’t really have a focused plan to start preserving my own food. I just had a few strawberries lying around that were starting to pout from being off the vine for a day. Sad. So, in the middle of making dinner, I just plucked off their stems and tossed them into a pot with a little sugar and cooked them until they broke down a bit. Voila! — Back-Burner Strawberry Sauce was born. My kids loved it, it was so easy to do, and I was so turned on by the prospect of being able to stop the hands of time on fading food that I began to dabble some more in this kind of alchemy. Refrigerator pickles were next — just boil up some brine, add it to the vegetables and — ta-da — lovely, lively, refrigerator pickles. And from there I’ve just kept going.
You can just jump in, too. If you feel a bit daunted at the prospect of making these recipes, it helps to think of putting up food as having two separate components — food preparation and food preservation. In this chapter I talk about all of the techniques — blanching and making agua fresca, granita, jams and jellies, vinegar pickles, fermented pickles, salsas and chutneys, relishes, butters, sauces, and ketchups — you will need to essentially stop your food’s aging process. In fact, even if you go no further than this chapter you will be able to save piles of fresh food from a date with the compost (and loads of grocery dollars in perishable food).
Whether you have a little extra produce or a lot — six extra apples or a freshly picked bushel — this section will help you prep them before you lose them. You’ll be able to put together some jam while dinner simmers, or whip up some tomato sauce while you watch a movie, not your stove. It’s all you need to buy yourself some time before good food goes bad. So let’s get started.
Blanching is often called for in food preservation recipes. It’s a simple process: you drop small batches of produce into a pot of boiling water, boil them briefly, then scoop them out and plunge them into ice water. Why go through this extra step? Well, blanching serves a number of purposes:
• Most important, blanching deactivates natural enzymes in food that would hasten its decay.
• It helps to set the color of foods.
• It makes it easier to remove the skins of fruits such as tomatoes and peaches.
• It coaxes liquid out of produce so that it won’t dilute a pickling brine.
• It softens foods so they’re easier to pack into canning jars and freezer containers.
• It softens skins, such as grape skins, so they dry more readily.
Food Preservation Methods
There are a number of methods you can use to preserve the harvest. Some will take only a few minutes, while others are more involved, project-cooking endeavors. Choose the one that works for you.
After you’ve prepped your recipe, you need to find a way to preserve it. Say the words “home food preservation,” however, and you can almost see someone’s shoulders wilt under the weight of such a daunting prospect. That’s too bad, because the process is really quite easy. If you’ve ever popped some leftovers into the fridge or wrapped up some bread for the freezer, you have preserved food. I find it loads of fun and peculiarly satisfying — like I’ve tapped into some inner hunter/gatherer who has successfully put away stores for the winter.
Each method described in this chapter — whether it uses the refrigerator, freezer, alcohol or vinegar, drying, or the boiling-water method — will extend the shelf life of seasonal produce for a specific length of time. Some will preserve the flavors of the harvest for a few days, others for up to one year. Generally, refrigerated preparations are the most short-lived, followed by dried and frozen items, those preserved in alcohol and vinegar and, at the far end of the spectrum, the boiling-water method, which will make items shelf-stable.
Food preservation does not have to be time-consuming or difficult. Some techniques will take only a few minutes, while others, such as mastering the boiling-water method, are a bit more time-intensive but simpler than you might think. All of the preserving techniques are fairly straightforward and doable — there is nothing in this book that requires culinary training or even significant kitchen experience.
In the peak of the season, I often have multiple processes going on at any given time. Once you get the hang of preserving, you may find your kitchen looks part science lab, with crocks of fermenting foods bubbling away and strings of produce desiccating on the line. It’s the perfect time to host a dinner party — very impressive in a Victorian mad scientist kind of way. So get in there and put ’em up!
Using the fridge to delay spoilage is an excellent way to squeeze some extra life out of the harvest. Refrigerator jams and pickles can extend the shelf life of delicate items such as berries and quick-to-shrivel cukes for up to three weeks without additional processing.
You don’t need any special equipment to store things in the refrigerator — even recycled jelly, mayo, and pickle jars will do. Just make sure they’re good and clean so you don’t transfer that yummy dill flavor to the lemon curd.
The only special ingredient in refrigerator storage is the cold. The cool temperature of the fridge slows down the enzymes in food that lead to decomposition.
Adding acid or sugar will delay spoilage even further. Refrigerated foods, however, don’t need to be as acidic as shelf-stable products to remain safe to eat, so you can experiment more freely with recipes for chilled foods. Because you don’t have to rely on the standardized acidity of distilled vinegars, try delicately flavored wine, rice, and other vinegars. And because you won’t be heating the brine, take advantage of unpasteurized vinegars that have a living mother without damaging the probiotic nature of these products.
Refrigeration also slows down the action of fermented foods so they last longer, but unlike foods preserved with the boiling-water method — which relies on heat to stabilize the product — their natural beneficial bacteria remain intact. I just transfer the whole crock of pickles or kraut, for example, directly to the fridge. Cover it loosely, as the fermentation will continue, albeit slowly, and the resulting gases must be able to escape.
Fermenting foods can perfume the fridge. I find the smell very pleasant, but there have been only a couple of times in my life when the combination of pickles and ice cream sounded like a good idea. Consider putting a small dish of baking soda in the fridge if you’re going to store fermenting things in there, to keep everything from tasting too pickle-y or kraut-y.
You can modify many of the recipes here that are designed to be canned into refrigerated foods simply by skipping the boiling-water bath that makes them shelf-stable. You can make a jam or jelly, a salsa or relish and keep it in the refrigerator for up to three weeks. Recipes for which this treatment is appropriate are noted as such. It’s a great way to have these products on hand without the added step of canning them. It also allows you to experiment a bit with the flavors in a recipe because the balance of acid isn’t as critical.
Refrigeration is particularly useful for protecting the integrity of probiotics in fermented foods, for gentle handling of delicate foods that couldn’t withstand the heat and processing of the boiling-water method, or simply to save time.
It’s a sad thing to find a half-eaten jar of refrigerator jam or pickles hidden in the back of the fridge. You can’t quite remember when you packed it, and you have no idea whether it’s still good to eat or if you should heave it into the bin. Often I’ve stood in front of the fridge, jar in one hand, fork in the other, caught in a dilemma: to taste or to toss? To avoid this decision, jot a “made on” date on the jar of the refrigerator concoction or on a piece of masking tape affixed to the jar, and remove it once you’ve emptied the container. Then you can rest assured your food is wholesome and fresh.
Ditto with jars of food that have been processed by the boiling-water method. They must be refrigerated once they are opened. Jot the “opened” date on their lids with a marker so you can keep track of their freshness. These products will last a few weeks once you open a jar, but they do have a limited shelf life, even when they’re kept cold.
Working in Groups
Canning parties are great fun. By dividing the work, assembly-line-style or in shifts, you can put by a lot of food. Canning is also a terrific project to do with friends, one that will nurture you every time you dip into your stash.
It’s tempting, with all those hands at the ready, to double and triple a recipe. I don’t recommend it. A too-large batch will need more time to cook through properly and may leave some of the food undercooked, a danger for safe processing. Large batches of jam may not set properly. Stick to the quantities recommended. You’ll have better success cooking more batches, not bigger ones. Here are some ideas for sharing the workload. (I don’t recommend group work for jellies, which hang in the jelly bag for so long.)
FOR MAKING JAMS, SALSAS, RELISHES
• 2 or 3 people prepping produce
• 1 person doing the cooking
• 1 person washing jars, loading the canner, and watching the processing clock
• 1 or 2 people packing jars
FOR PROCESSING WHOLE TOMATOES
Because of the extended processing time, two canners will keep things moving along. Load one canner and start the timing while you prep for and load the second.
• 2 or 3 people prepping tomatoes
• 1 or 2 people packing jars
• 1 person washing jars, loading the canners, and watching the processing clock
It helps to have two pots of water boiling in order to blanch a lot of produce. Drop the produce into pot #1; while it’s coming to a boil, drop produce into pot #2. Scoop #1 and reload. Scoop #2 and reload. Repeat.
• 2 or 3 people prepping vegetables (shelling peas, topping beans, shucking corn)
• 1 person blanching
• 1 or 2 people drying
• 2 or 3 people post-blanch processing (such as corn kerneling or tomato peeling)
• 1 person packing
Things That Will Surely Get You into Trouble
You’ll kill someone. That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Many home cooks I know — dedicated, accomplished cooks — have told me they’re afraid to preserve their own food because they could kill someone. Let’s set the record straight. Yes, you will follow some commonsense rules about cleanliness and you will be asked to follow a recipe without a lot of improvisation. But hey, raw chicken has its hazards if not handled properly. Unless you think it’s okay to swab kitchen counters with raw poultry, I can pretty much guarantee that you can handle home food preservation. After all, home cooks have been doing so for generations and we’ve managed to survive as a species. And now, with more foolproof methods than ever before, the process is even safer. To demystify the demons, here are the big no-nos.
THE BIG “B”: BOTULISM
Botulism is a foodborne illness that can result from consuming improperly canned foods. It is indeed deadly and deserves the respect of our attention, but let’s put it in perspective. Botulism spores are a natural part of the environment. The bacteria themselves are not harmful: it’s the botulism toxin, created when the bacteria reproduce, that’s hazardous. Botulism toxin forms only in a low-acid, airtight environment. Follow these two simple steps and you eliminate the conditions necessary for food to become tainted with botulism toxin.
• Fully process the food. Heat kills the bacteria that generate the toxin. If you process canned food as directed, you will kill off any Clostridium botulinum present and eliminate the threat of botulism toxin.
• Maintain the proper pH. Clostridium botulinum bacteria need a low-acid environment in order to grow. If you use the amount of acid indicated in a recipe and don’t add more produce than is called for, your canned goods will have the necessary acidity to guard against botulism.
PLAYING FAST AND LOOSE WITH A RECIPE
The recipes in this book are based on USDA standards for safe home food preservation. Careful attention has been paid to the kind and amounts of ingredients that will yield successful (read: safe) results. Unless a recipe indicates an area where you can adjust “to taste,” do not alter it at all.
PLAYING WITH FATHER TIME
Many of the methods described in the book rely on time as a major ingredient. Foods will transform before your very eyes: sweets will become savory, savory will taste sweet, vegetables will turn into pickles, and jams morph into a treat — but not always instantly. Give the alchemy time to do its “magic” if you want food that’s tasty and safe, too. Never process foods for less than the amount of time indicated — heat needs time to fully penetrate the food and make it shelf-stable. Conversely, over-processing can also have a negative impact on your results — food may have a softer texture and duller flavors, and the pectin will separate from fruit preparations.
NOT USING MODERN METHODS
You may have family recipes that conflict with those in this book and even with the USDA guidelines. Your grandmother may swear by her method for putting up her garden because it has been used for generations even though it flies in the face of any local health department’s recommendations. I would never dream of pulling you away from those time-tested culinary traditions. But if you don’t have a Nona (or a Memaw or a Bubbe or an Abuela) who taught you and you’re learning from books, stick to the script.
Things That Look Bad but Aren’t Dangerous
A separation of solids and liquids after processing is called fruit float. Most commonly it refers to jams that have divided so that you have a thick layer of fruit solidified at the top of the jar and a band of clear jelly at the bottom. Fruit float may also refer to whole or halved fruits, such as tomatoes and pears, that bob up to the top of the jar after processing. And it can be used to describe a thick sauce, such as barbecue sauce, that has a thin band of clear liquid that settles at the bottom of the jar after processing.
Fruit float is nothing more than an aesthetic problem. You can reblend a jam by stirring the contents after a jar is opened. Whole fruits will often settle back into suspension after the air bubbles in the fruits’ cell structure — which are making it buoyant — have a chance to escape and rise to the surface. Shake sauces before use to redistribute their ingredients. If you have extensive fruit float that doesn’t settle after a week and leaves produce bobbing up out of the liquid, turn the jars periodically so that the food remains properly saturated with preserving liquid.
BUBBLES ON RECENTLY PROCESSED FOODS
Whereas bubbles and fizzing throughout a jar are signs of spoilage, it’s quite normal to see a light covering of bubbles on recently processed produce. These are from the escaping air that was trapped in the cell structure of the produce. Gently swirl the jar to encourage these bubbles to rise to the top. This reduces the fruits’ buoyancy and enables them to sink down into the preserving liquid, which will better protect them in storage and reclaim the proper headspace.
MINERAL DEPOSITS ON LIDS
I threw out many quarts of tomatoes before I knew about this one: although black specks that form on food are generally a sign of spoilage, black specks on the lids of tomatoes are harmless mineral deposits that are a by-product of the process. They are perfectly safe.
Fermented vegetables often have a cloudy brine. Unless you also notice a rancid smell, cloudy preserving liquid is harmless. Powdered spices can also cause a preserving liquid to appear a bit cloudy, and that’s okay, too.
SCUM OR MOLD ON THE FERMENT
Fermented pickles, which are brined vegetables that generate their own lactic acid (see page 45), will develop a layer of scum — some call it bloom — on the top of the preserving liquid. This is a normal by-product of the fermentation process, and it can be scooped off and discarded.
Part Two: Recipes
There are so many gorgeous heirloom apples available at the farmers’ market, each type with a unique flavor and suited to a different job. Some hold their shape during cooking so they work really well in pies or other preparations, such as Spiced Apple Chutney, where you want the fruit to provide some texture. Other apples fall apart easily when cooked and are best suited for recipes such as Homemade Applesauce where you want a nice, smooth result. Still others have a terrific balance of tart and sweet and a crisp texture that make them just right for eating out of hand. Many apples are multipurpose — ask your farmer for advice on choosing the right apple.
Heirloom apples — those varieties that have been passed down for generations — come in a wide range of tastes and characteristics. These fruits aren’t often grown on a commercial scale. You need to ferret them out in farmers’ markets and at local, family-owned orchards. Protecting heirloom apples, and all heirlooms, is important: they’re a link to our past, have unparalleled flavor, and preserve biodiversity.
My friend Ed Yowell is crazy about an heirloom called the Newtown Pippin. The only apple variety native to New York City, it traces back to an eighteenth-century farm in the borough of Queens (yes, Queens) and was a favorite of Thomas Jefferson’s. Ed coordinated with area arborists to graft and plant hundreds of Pippin trees in the city and beyond to ensure the future of this lovely green fruit. You can protect heirlooms, too, just by eating them. Talk to local growers about their offerings. Stock up on the “keepers” — those that last the longest in the root cellar or fridge — and put some of the other good apples to work in these recipes.
FRESH STORAGE RECOMMENDATIONS
STORE APPLES INDIVIDUALLY, WRAPPED IN NEWSPAPER or layered between dry fall leaves or straw. Load them into big barrels or crates and top them with wire mesh, to let air circulate but keep out any pests. Separating apples during storage is critical: as the old adage goes, one bad apple will spoil the whole barrel.
DRIED APPLE RINGS
2 pounds of apples make about 1 cup of rings
Kids love these and I do, too. They have a satisfyingly chewy texture that’s a little bit addictive. You can use any variety of apples here.
6 (500 mg) tablets vitamin C, crushed
2 cups cold water
1. Preheat the oven to 170°F.
2. To prepare an antibrowning ascorbic-acid bath, dissolve the crushed vitamin C tablets in the water in a large bowl. Peel and core the apples and cut into ¼-inch slices. Add the apple slices to the acid bath as you cut them. Soak for 10 minutes.
To me, nothing says spring like asparagus. Its grassy green flavor is just what my taste buds are looking for to clear away the cobwebs. It grows with such exuberance that you can imagine the spears bucking under the frost like racehorses at the gate — when they finally do make their debut aboveground, they go great guns. A farmer friend says he can actually see them growing, and I don’t think he’s exaggerating. In warm temperatures, the spears can grow at a rate of 1 centimeter an hour — inches over the course of a single day.
Perhaps it’s this virility that has inspired the belief that asparagus is an aphrodisiac and a health tonic. Since Roman times, the vegetable has been prized by nobles for its, ahem, inspirational qualities. Even in the most proper British circles, the spears are one of the few edibles that diners are invited to eat with their hands — lusty indeed for a culture that insists on eating everything from unpeeled peaches to pizza with knife and fork.
All claims aside, asparagus is an elegant vegetable made even more precious for its brief harvest season. When it’s in season I put it in everything I can and then — poof — it’s gone. I’m grateful for these recipes, which enable me to have these pretty spears on the table or sautéed in an omelet beyond the vegetable’s peekaboo appearance during the spring.
FRESH STORAGE RECOMMENDATIONS
ASPARAGUS IS A THIRSTY VEGETABLE. When buying asparagus, look for ends that are still moist — those are the spears that aren’t long from the fields — or are sitting in a pan of clean, fresh water. When you get them home, refrigerate them upright in a shallow pan or bowl with an inch of water at the bottom until you’re ready to use them.
There is nothing like fresh-from-the-field asparagus, but these quickly frozen spears make worthy understudies.
Any quantity asparagus, trimmed
1. Line several baking sheets with dish towels and set aside. Prepare an ice-water bath in a large bowl or clean sink.
2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Drop the asparagus into the water, no more than 1 pound at a time, and return to a boil. Blanch for 1 minute.
3. Scoop the asparagus out of the water with a spider or slotted spoon and plunge them into the ice-water bath. Continue blanching the asparagus in batches. Remove the asparagus from the ice bath with a slotted spoon and spread on the towel-covered baking sheets. Blot dry.
4. Arrange spears on a baking sheet and freeze solid.
(String, Yellow Wax)
Beans are magical. You can’t not grow them. Plunk them into the ground and they will climb any post you provide, shooting up quickly and stretching their tendrils for something to grab on to in a very Little Shop of Horrors way. If you’re looking for something easy to nurture, beans are it. They grow fast enough to keep the kids entertained and their climbing ways add instant “farm charm” to any patio or backyard garden.
String beans are always available in the supermarket, so many people don’t think of them as a seasonal item, but they, too, have their peak. Grab them by the handful when they’re fresh from the vine and you’ll be surprised by their sweet flavor, so good you can snack on them raw. The typical green beans are fine in these recipes, but don’t stop there. Yellow wax and even the striking purple varieties can be used interchangeably here. I often use a combination — the contrasting colors are a “wow” in the jar.
FRESH STORAGE RECOMMENDATIONS
- “Vinton appeals to the new food hipster by providing basic information and recipes for a variety of likely concoctions. She excels at boiling down information into easy prose, providing the reasons why certain steps are important, and anticipating the questions that a beginner might have. Her emphasis is on making food preservation possible and fun, with no fancy ingredients and few single-use gadgets.”—San Francisco Book Review
- “Revive your grandmother’s tradition of home-preserving the season’s bounty with Put ‘Em Up!. This delicious guidebook will inspire you to pickle, jelly, and freeze like an old pro. From classic canning techniques to tips on freezing and even making hot pepper ristras, you’ll enjoy summer’s ripeness year-round. The author’s can-do writing style will surely empower you. Happy canning! ”—Waterbury Republican-American
- “The author helps home canners take the fear out of the process by explaining each process with the aid of easy to follow illustrations and graphics, perfect for keeping first timers on track.”
- On Sale
- Jun 2, 2010
- Page Count
- 304 pages