Preserving Local Produce

Winter citrus and ginger tea

Fridge drawer 1.5
Opening the fridge drawer today reminded me of how lucky we are to live in Florida in the winter. It's citrus season right at the perfect time. Every other person I know has a cold right now and, even if there is no actual proof that Vitamin C cures them, the bright colos and zingy taste makes me feel better.  

Meyers lemons, by the way, are our local variety. They're bigger than store-bought and a little less mouth-puckering. They are super-juicy compared to the smaller ones, and you can freeze the juice for summer lemonade and iced tea; they also make incredible lemon bars and lemon meringue pie. Calamondins are tiny citrus that remain sour as they ripen. We've sweetened them up into marmalade and pie, but they can substitute for lemons in lemonade and tea as well. 

On a chilly day like today, a cup of ginger tea is warming and healthy whether you have a cold or are just plain cold. Meyers lemons and/or calamondins add the tang, ginger spices it up, and honey just feels good going down. We bought the ginger at the co-op, but the lemon and honey we got from local farmers. Thank you Hendersons and Chacko-Allens! 

Ginger Tea

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Honey to taste

Place all ingedients in a small pot, add one cup water and bring to a boil. Steep for about five minutes. Poor through strainer into cup.  If you make more, you can store it in the fridge; it's good cold, too. 

End of Summer - Roselle and Malabar Spinach

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It's supposed to dip down into the 30s tomorrow night, with a possibility of frost that will put an end to a couple of summer survivors: roselle and Malabar spinach.

We harvested a basketful of roselle last weekend and dried it in a borrowed dehydrator. Roselle - also called Jamaica sorrel is a relative of hibiscus, okra, cotton, and responsible for the red zing in "Red Zinger" tea. A basketful created a jar of dried calyxes for making a beautiful vitamin-C-ful tea during winter with some hopefully left over for authentic Jamaica for the Christmas season (the one with rum). 

Roselle sepals sm
A friend brought by bags full of Malabar Spinach - a heat-hardy climbing vine that is not related to spinach at all. It has many of the same nutrients though and is a good source of calcium and iron as well as Vitamins A and C. And IT GROWS IN THE SUMMER in north Florida, which makes me want to love it in spite of its slightly mucilaginous quality. In fact, I really do like it more each time I try it.

And, let me repeat: IT GROWS IN THE SUMMER. 

Malabar spinach
We served it at the cafe this week in quiche, and folks really liked it. We also added it to some newly-harvested lettuce in salad.  I blanched and froze three gallons of it, which will be greening up soups and casseroles for months to come. 

Goodbye summer! 

{malibar spinach photo found here - with more info about this glorious summer vegetable}

Local Honey-Sweetened Blueberry Jam

Blueberry jam

While I love the idea of preserving berries and other local fruit by turning them into jam, I often find the taste way too sweet, due to the amount of sugar required to make the stuff gel. Except for the tartest fruit, the flavor is obscured by the sweetness. Now I think I have found the solution. 

"Pomona's Universal Pectin," like Certo and Sure-Jell, is made from citrus pectin, but it is "low-ester" - difference explained here - and requires calcium as an activating agent instead of a lot of sugar. There’s a little packet of calcium and instruction for its use in the box with the pectin. The instructions are simple and allow for much more variation than the high-ester pectin does – even making suggestions for coming up with your own recipes.  Because our blueberries were quite sweet, I used the lower range of local honey called for – ½ cup to four cups berries (sugar, agave, maple syrup, etc. could have also been used). The Sure-Jell recipe calls for a whopping 4 cups of sugar for the same amount of berries. 

The less-sweet Pomona version was quick and easy and turned out absolutely delicious. So much more of the actual taste of blueberries is present in the final product. And I love the fact that, except for the pectin, the jam is 100% local. 

In Gainesville, you can buy Pomona's Pectin at Ward's.

Strawberry-Orange Marmalade

May  eat me 2
Even though I'm not a big fan of jam, I like making it a lot. And I LOVE the idea of capturing some of the beauty of one season and saving it in a jar for another. We live in a wonderful place where the strawerry harvest and orange season overlap for just a bit. The orange really brightened up the deep red of the sweet strawberries and will remind me for months to come of these incredible bright May days. And it is much tastier than store-bought jam. 


6 cups strawberries, washed, tops removed and quartered
4 thin-skinned oranges, sliced thinly than chopped into 1/4-1/2" pieces
2 lemons, sliced and chopped like oranges
1 cup water
1/2 tablespoon butter
2 packages "certa" pectin (I am going to try "pomona" pectin next time which is supposed to gel without as much sugar)
6 cups sugar, divided

Place all ingredients except sugar in a large pot, bring to a rolling boil (one that is not fazed by stirring). Add half the sugar, mixing well, then bring to a boil again. Now add the rest of the sugar, bring to a rolling boil again - and boil while stirring for 3 minutes. 

Remove pot from stove, and ladle contents into sterilized jars, wipe rim, screw on sterilized lids and bands, and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. 

Datil Pepper Relish

Datil peppers

Turning this. . .

Datil pepper relish

into this!

We have been food preservation freaks this week! Besides making a BUNCH more green tomato salsa - which was perfect for the Sweet Potato Chili we served yesterday - I also canned some Datil Pepper Relish for the future. 

If there's ever a time to use gloves, working with datil peppers would be it. And if you have a food processor, it would be a nice time to pull that out too. I just love that this recipe used both the first-freeze peppers and the green tomatoes. The canning process zaps some of the color, compared to the fresh salsa, but it's nice to think we'll be able to use this bounty throughout the winter. 

Here's the recipe, via my dental hygienist's fifth-generation Floridian husband:

David's Datil Pepper Relish

6 cups chopped, seeded datil peppers
3 cups chopped onions
3 cups chopped seeded tomatoes (I used green)
6 cloves minced garlic
2 tablespoons salt
3 tablespoons sugar
2 cups white vinegar

Combine peppers, onions tomatoes, garlic, and salt in a large bowl. Mix thoroughly and let sit for 2-3 hours. Add sugar and vinegar and bring to a boil in a large pot. Let simmer for 15 minutes. Pack in sterilized jars and can in a hot bath for 10 minutes. Makes approximately 10 1/2 pints. 

Pints of Pickled Peppers

Little Pickled PeppersThe heat has taken down just about everything in the garden - except a few Seminole pumpkins, the roselle (Jamaican sorrel), eggplant, and peppers. The peppers, in particular, are thriving. We have sweet bell peppers and cayenne, and we were also gifted by a quart of jalapenos from the farmers market.

So I got to pickle peppers. Now that I have gotten used to the sterilization process and done a little pressure canning, water-bath canning seems almost routine. It only took a little over an hour start to finish with the pickled jalapenos - making a brine while sterilizing the jars in the canner, packing the jars with the sliced peppers (wear gloves if you do this; trust me), pouring over the syrup, tightening the lids and processing for ten minutes. They're pretty on the shelf and will give a nice zip to chili and other bean soups and maybe even fall football game nachos.

Canned goods [640x480]

I also made some more "pepper sauce" my grandmother's way, but with some jars that will be more useable for guests. With a mix of green, orange, and red peppers they look beautiful. And after a week in the fridge, they're already plenty hot for me. These are the traditional accompaniment to greens which we are sure to have a lot of once it cools down.

Pepper sauce parade 2

Southern Pepper Sauce

Pepper Sauce

We were joking the other night about how quickly hot sauce disappears from our tables on café days. People don’t just sprinkle it on, they apparently pour it with wild abandon on the soup – regardless of how spicy the soup started out. One of our community members noted that the size and shape of the typical Tabasco-type bottle is perfect for keeping in one’s back pocket. This same friend spent some time in jail and said hot sauce, though contraband, was often smuggled in and shared among inmates. I think it’s a southern thing.

Growing up, my grandparents always, always had a mason jar of the homemade stuff on the shelf near the kitchen table. Apparently the combination of hot peppers and vinegar rendered it bacteria proof, but I keep mine in the fridge just in case. It doesn’t cool it down a bit, and it will knock your socks off when sprinkled on black-eyed peas, field peas, and collard greens. It tastes good when a little migrates over the sliced tomatoes (which will surely be on your plate in early summer if you are Southern) too. 

Directions: Rinse little hot peppers and put in a clean jar, cover with apple cider vinegar. Let sit for a few weeks.  Pour over everything.

Pressure-Canned Collards!

Canned collards [640x480]

I am not impressed, at least not by the results. So few jars for so much time! And angst!

But the process was interesting. It took 2.5 hours from start to finish, probably due in part to inexperience and fear. We cleaned, cleaned, and cleaned surfaces, jars, and utensils, washed the collards three times, then got to steaming then canning them, using our brand new All-American Pressure Canner and the the Ball Blue Book of Preserving (aka The Bible). The real time-sucker was watching over the canner to make sure the weight jiggled "one to four times per minute" to assure accurate pressure - FOR 70 MINUTES. Next time, I'll make sure I have some knitting close by so I'll have something to do with my hands besides wring them...

It was a mistake to use pint jars. We couldn't find quarts anyplace over the weekend; Faced with a windfall of donated greens and wanting to make good use of them, we plunged ahead with the pints. If we had used the larger size, we would have had twice the output, which would have been heartening.

I have frozen extra greens in the past, but our smallish freezer is perpetually full of something or other, and using re-useable glass jars instead of freezer bags seemed like a plus... Does the canning process use more energy than a separate freezer does? I have no idea! But I would think quantity makes a difference, and we sure have that. In any case, I'm not giving up on the idea of "putting by" our excess produce this way. Next time, I'll see if quart jars (wherever you are) and a little more experience helps fine-tune the process!

Calomondin Marmalade

Calomondin marmalade 2
This is one area in which our region excels: Oranges in Winter. Oh, it is good. Not only are they high in vitamin C which is very handy this time of year, but citrus fruits are little orbs of sunshine on a cold day.

We used some of the littlest orbs - calomondins - to make marmalade this week. Calomondins originated in Asia and are thought to be a hybrid of kumquats and tangerines - but no one seems to know for sure. They have thin, sweet peels like kumquats, and they peel easy and have easily sectioned fruit like tangerines. They are extremely sour, though, which is why most people grow them only as ornamentals.

We bought four little baskets full from the Hendersons at the farmers market on Saturday and turned them into sweet and sour marmalade. The process took about two hours of my time in the kitchen, although the juice had to rest in the fridge overnight midway to develop the pectin.

I am not a fan of jellies, jams, and marmalades generally. But I love the idea of local ones so much that I truly enjoy them when I make them or get them from someone who has.  And they do taste so much more fruity than the kind you buy at the supermarket. This one is my favorite so far - tangy, textured with little bits of tasty peel, and lovely to behold spread on warm toast on a cold morning.


Select four cups of firm fruit, free of blemishes. Remove seeds and slice thinly. Measure fruit and place in saucepan. Add 3/4 cup water to each cup of fruit. Bring to a boil and boil for 15 minutes. Cool, and place in the refrigerator overnight to develop pectin.

The next day, measure the stock, and for each cup of stock add 1 cup sugar. Bring mixture to a boil and continue to boil until candy thermometer reads 220 degrees.  Pour immediately into sterilized jars and process in a hot water bath for 5 minutes.

Jammin' with the Farmers' Market

A_harold_and_annalee_coday B_fruits

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The Farmers’ Market at 441 was holding its Spring Festival last Saturday and we came home with all kinds of good stuff, including a flat of strawberries for jam-making.

I’ve made blueberry jam in the past, but this was my first time with the strawberries.  If I had to do it again, I think I might add the ½ teaspoon of butter the recipe called for to decrease foaming - although when I opened a jar this morning and mixed it around a bit, it was fine.  Just an aesthetic thing.   Making the jam was pretty quick and easy, following the recipe in the pectin package; I think I’ll do it again before the season is over.  I like the idea of just putting up a batch at a time regularly rather than making an all day thing of it.


Today is a big cooking day for me.  For the last couple years Ben has invited friends over for “Wednesday Night Dinner.”  It started out as a way to socialize when his immune system was so suppressed from his cancer treatment that he couldn’t go out.  But even now that he’s well, we have a regular little group of folks who come to eat and hang out. It’s sweet, and I’ll miss it when it’s over.  As every middle-aged parent in the world is fond of saying: “It goes by so quickly.”  And since they seem to enjoy the garden/local veggies, tonight we’ll be having roasted beets, onions, carrots, and tomatoes with rosemary served on polenta with a side of lettuce/sorrel/garbanzo salad and homemade cheese bread.  Left over strawberries on ice cream for dessert.  We still go all out on Wednesdays. (bold=local farmers, bold+italics=home garden, everything else local grocer) 

If this were going to be a totally locally-grown meal, I would have to leave out the grain (bread and polenta), garbanzos and ice cream.  I’d put boiled eggs on the salad for protein and maybe serve the strawberries with cream (we have a local dairy).  As it is, it fits the locavore guidelines at least - not to be too dogmatic about it. 

I’ll post the recipe after we see how it turns out.