We are pleased to bring you this guest post by Marisa McClellan, a food blogger, cookbook author, and canning teacher based in Center City, Philadelphia. Her books include Food in Jars, Preserving by the Pint, and Naturally Sweet Food in Jars. She has written for publications like Vegetarian Times, USA Today, Parents Magazine, The Sweethome, Food Network, Serious Eats, The Kitchn, Grid Philly, Saveur, Edible Philly, and Table Matters. Marisa also co-hosts a podcast dedicated to living a food-focused life called Local Mouthful. Find more of her jams, pickles, and preserves (all cooked up in her 80-square-foot kitchen) at www.foodinjars.com.

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I grew up in Portland, Oregon, in a family that, thanks to backyard fruit trees and a stand of blackberry brambles down the street, always made time for a few batches of home-canned jam in late summer and early fall. My sister and I would help pick, wash, and prep the fruit, and always enjoyed eating our way through the jars we’d had a hand in making.

Then, when I was in my mid-20s and living in Philadelphia, I went blueberry picking with a friend. We got to talking and before I knew it, I had picked 13 pounds of blueberries. I turned some of those berries into jam and immediately fell back in love with the act of preserving food.

apricots on a sheet tray

Soon after, I started blogging about my jamming and pickling experiments. One thing led to another and over time, teaching people how to can and preserve turned into my career. Over the last 10 years, I’ve taught thousands of people how to do this safely and easily. My goal is always to help people understand that there’s nothing inherently dangerous or daunting about canning. Despite what you’ve heard, there’s no way to kill your family with jam or pickles!

When you’re first getting started, you want to follow a recipe from a trusted source (recently published cookbooks and the Ball Canning website are good resources) and think through the steps before you start. And truly, if you can boil water for pasta, you can easily use a boiling water bath canner. For more details on how to get started canning and even use the pots you already have, check my guide. I’ve also included two recipes in this post. The pickles are designed to be stored in the refrigerator (no canning required!), and the apricot butter makes a small enough batch that if the canning step leaves you cold, you can skip it and just stash the jars in the fridge as well.

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Minty Pickle Spears

These are my favorite quick pickles because they’re both sweet and tangy. I often make them in a big bowl for summertime potlucks and picnics and they’re always hugely popular. Oh, and if you’re not averse to using the microwave, the brine for these pickles can be nuked for a couple minutes right in the measuring cup. It speeds things up and makes one less thing to wash.

Makes 4 (pint/500 ml) jars

2 pounds (905 g) Kirby or other pickling cucumbers
2 cups (470 ml) apple cider vinegar
2 cups (470 ml) filtered water
½ cup (170 g) honey
2 tablespoons pickling salt
½ cup fresh mint leaves, packed
8 garlic cloves, peeled
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper

  1. Wash and slice the cucumbers into spears.
  2. In a medium saucepan, combine vinegar, water and salt. Bring to a simmer.
  3. Arrange jars on counter and divide garlic cloves, mint leaves, and spices evenly between them. Pack the cucumber spears firmly into the jars, leaving 1-inch headspace. You don’t want to damage the cukes, but you do want them packed tightly.
  4. Pour the brine into the jar, leaving ½ inch (12 mm) of headspace. Tap to remove any air bubbles and add more brine, if necessary.
  5. Let these pickles cool on the counter, cover jars with a canning lid and ring, then refrigerate.

Note: I recommend that you make these pickles for the fridge because they are going to keep their crunch better that way. They will keep for 3 to 4 weeks. If you are desperate to make these pickles shelf-stable, they do contain enough acid to be processed in a boiling water bath (10 minutes will do), but they won’t be nearly as snappy.

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Apricot Butter

Honey-Sweetened Apricot Lavender Butter

Makes 3 half-pints

1 quart apricots (about 1½ pounds ripe, whole fruit), pitted and chopped
¾ cup honey
2 teaspoons food-grade lavender buds (easy to find in bulk at your local co-op or spice shop)

  1. Combine chopped apricots and honey in a bowl. Stir well to combine. Tie the lavender buds up in a length of cheesecloth so that none can escape and tuck it into the apricots and honey. Cover and let sit at room temperature for one hour, so that the lavender flavor can begin to infuse into the fruit.
  2. When the time is up, taste the uncooked mixture. If you like the current level of lavender infusion, remove the packet and discard. If you want a bit more lavender flavor, leave the packet in for the first 10 to 15 minutes of cooking.
  3. Prepare a boiling water bath canner and 3 half-pint jars. Place lids into a small pan of water and bring to a gentle simmer.
  4. Pour the fruit, honey, and lavender packet into a wide, nonreactive pot. Place over high heat and cook at a boil, stirring regularly, for 15 to 20 minutes.
  5. As it cooks, check the consistency regularly by sweeping your spoon through the butter and then holding it sideways over the pot. Watch how it drops off the spoon. If it looks runny, it isn’t done yet. If it looks thick and nearly spreadable, remove the pot from the heat. It is done.
  6. Ladle butter into prepared jars. To can the butter, wipe rims, apply lids and rings, and process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath canner. (If you prefer to skip the canning step, the finished butter can be ladled into clean jars and refrigerated for 2 to 3 weeks.)

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“Minty Pickles” reprinted with permission from Naturally Sweet Food in Jars © 2016 by Marisa McClellan, Running Press, a member of the Perseus Book Group. Photo by Steve Legato.

“Apricot Butter” reprinted with permission from Preserving by the Pint © 2014 by Marisa McClellan, Running Press, a member of the Perseus Book Group. Photo by Marisa McClellan.

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