Monday, September 19, 2016

The Last Weekend of Summer

The summer heat continues and even though the sun is now rising later (already I am getting up in the dark -- ugh!) and setting earlier, it still feels like mid-July.  We've gotten a few good rainfalls which combined with the heat are making the gardens give it their all in a last great push to the end of the growing season.

I've managed to collect a few batches of tomatoes here and there, but the cucumbers are all but done. I have great hopes for my carrots, though and will leave them well into the fall before pulling some. They are growing well and will sweeten up in the cooler weather. In her excellent book The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener: How to Grow Your Own Food 365 Days a Year, No Matter Where You Live, Niki Jabbour mentions covering your carrots with straw or mulch to protect them from freezing and leaving them in the ground over winter, pulling them as needed. I'm not sure if I'm brave enough to try it with all my carrots, but I may try one patch and see what happens.

Meanwhile, Saturday was warm, steamy, gray and rainy, so I decided to get warm and steamy indoors and do some canning. I missed the boat with the Ontario peaches this year -- they weren't around long -- and the few I did have a couple of weeks ago went from under-ripe to rotting in the blink of an eye. However, the Ontario nectarines were still plentiful and looking good, so I bought several quarts and decided to make jam as well as put up some diced fruit in a very light syrup.

The recipe I used as a base is this one for Peach Jam from Canadian Living magazine.  As usual, I tweaked it to use nectarines instead of peaches, I substituted 1 cup of brown sugar for 1 cup of the granulated sugar and I gilded the lily by adding 2 oz of Triple Sec and 1 oz of Courvoisier. In case you're interested, here's the difference between Triple Sec, Cointreau and Gran Marnier.

The thing I like about nectarines is that although they are technically a type of peach, they combine the best features of peaches and plums: they have the larger size, bright colouring and taste of peaches, but with the smooth, fuzz-free skin of plums that breaks down nicely when cooked.  This means no blanching and peeling is necessary!

So, to start I prepared my water bath canner and 6 jam jars. Next, I washed, pitted and diced a dozen medium-sized ripe nectarines to end up with 6 cups of diced fruit.

Next, throwing the fruit into a large pot and using a potato masher, I reduced the diced fruit into a pulpy mess. To speed things up a little, I finished it off by using my hand blender for a few quick blasts.

Next, I added two tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice (about half a medium-sized lemon) and put the pot on high heat.

While the fruit was beginning to heat, I combined 1 packet of light pectin with a quarter cup of granulated sugar then stirred into the fruit and brought everything to a boil.

Once the fruit mixture was at a steady boil, I added the remaining sugars, stirring well and brought the pot back up to a full rolling boil that couldn't be stirred down.

I added 2 oz of Triple Sec, 1 oz of Courvoisier and I boiled it hard for 1 minute, then turned off the heat and skimmed off any foam.

By this time, the canner had been boiling for well over 10 minutes, so I removed the sterilized jam jars and I filled 5 of them with a little left over for sampling.  I processed them in the canner for 10 minutes, then turned off the heat and left the canner for another 5 minutes before unloading the jars to a folded tea towel to cool undisturbed for 24 hours.  You can find my recipe here.

I had 18 nectarines left which I wanted to dice and preserve in a very light sugar syrup. I had about 2/3 of a quart of syrup left over from putting up some diced plums a few weeks ago that I had originally thought I would use for diced peaches. However, that being an exercise in disappointment, I decided to use the left over syrup on the nectarines.

So, like the jam, I began by washing, pitting and dicing the fruit while the left over sugar syrup was simmering and a half dozen pint canning jars and their rings were heating in the canner. After the jam, I had to top up the water in the canner and add another splash of white vinegar and by the time I had finished pitting and dicing the nectarines, I had time to sit with a cup of tea while the canner boiled.

Once the jars were sterilized, I removed them from the canner and packed 5 of them with the diced fruit, using the pestle from my mortar-and-pestle to tamp them down, packing them tightly into the jars without crushing them.

Using my canning funnel, I poured the sugar syrup into a large measuring cup and then poured from that into each of the jars, jiggling and tapping each jar to dislodge any air bubbles. Bernardin's canning instructions for putting up fruit in syrup state to leave a half-inch of head space, but I ended up with more like a quarter-inch. Typically this would jeopardize the sealing of the jars as there isn't enough room under the lids for steam to develop and expel from the jars thereby creating the vacuum that creates the seal.

Further, having the canning liquid so close to the top of the jar facilitates siphoning which ends up draining some of the canning liquid under the edge of the lid and compromising the ability for the lid to seal to the lip of the jar.

I was fortunate this time in that despite considerable siphoning, all my jars successfully sealed, although one jar took much longer to seal than the others.  I was thinking it would be a refrigerator jar that I would be eating from in the next week or so, when it suddenly "pinged" to let me know that it, too, had sealed and was shelf-stable.

Just to be sure, though, I removed the bands from each of the jars, then one-by-one I picked them up by the edges of the their lids using my fingertips. Each lid held fast which proved that its seal was intact. If any of the lids had released from the weight of the jar, I would have put the lid back on, secured it with its band and stored the jar in the fridge, using it up within the next week or two. But, happily, all are intact, so I can safely store them down in my pantry to enjoy throughout the coming winter.

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