Put ‘Em Up

Preserving puts the pleasure of eating natural, delicious foods at your fingertips year-round and through a few simple techniques you can enjoy fresh fish, homemade sauces, ready-to-eat fruits and vegetables even when they are out of season.

When my children were young, we had a farm where my husband, John, helped make me a vegetable garden that was worthy of Martha Stewart. We grew eggplants, tomatoes, corn, radishes, zucchini, squash and cucumbers, all inside a beautiful white picket fence. Though we had a bountiful supply of fresh produce, nothing went to waste. Cooking for my five children and their friends, I can say with certainty that we did not have leftovers or the need to freeze food.

I started food saving when my family got heavily into fishing. We do most of our fishing in the Florida Keys, so we purchased a commercial grade VacMaster vacuum sealer to keep at our home down south. Vacuum sealing is a fairly simple process, particularly when it comes to freshly caught fish. After filleting the fish, place it in an ice-cold saltwater brine to help season the meat, dissolve muscle fiber and retain moisture. After soaking in the brine, the fish is ready to be vacuum sealed and tossed in the freezer for later use. This type of food preservation works well for any kind of meat. My biggest tip is to clean the vacuum sealer after each use to avoid any buildup of juices that are extracted during the sealing process.

Vacuum sealing is also a fantastic option for preserving produce. When strawberries and blueberries are in season, I will vacuum seal them to use later in smoothies, muffins and blueberry streusel. A friend of mine began growing pineapples in the Florida Keys, so I have started to preserve them as well. My mom’s signature dessert is pineapple upside down cake, and I love a good pineapple rice.

While I enjoy using our vacuum sealer for produce and meat, I have recently gotten into canning. I love having jars of sauces on hand that were canned when tomatoes were in season. I make the sauce with fresh tomatoes, adding in a good amount of sliced organic garlic, basil from my garden and red pepper flakes for a bit of spice. I also add a dash of sugar with each jar to help tone down the acidity of the sauce, but this is optional. Pesto is another of my favorite sauces to make because of its wide variety of uses.

My mango tree in the Keys is in full bloom and I have started food saving the ripe mangoes to make mango jam. So far this season I have made 16 jars that both my friends and family have enjoyed. Making jam is a bit of a process, but I must say that I am a little addicted, now. I was thrilled with the outcome of my mango jam and I plan to make blackberry jam next time there is a buy-one, get-one sale on organic blackberries.

Before diving into canning, I suggest purchasing a canning kit, which will include items such as a rack, funnel, jar lifter, jar wrench, lid lifter, tongs and bubble popper tool. I only use glass jars when canning and it is important to boil your jars and lids for 10 minutes before use for sanitation purposes. After filling the jars with jam or sauce, the canning kit comes in handy to ensure a tight seal on the lid. It is essential to leave the canned jam or sauce out overnight and check the lids in the morning. If any lid pops up or down, then the seal was not tight and the jam or sauce should be refrigerated and used within a week.

I encourage everyone to give jam and sauce making a try. Homemade jams and sauces make great hostess gifts when you attend parties and a gift from your heart and your hands at the holidays is a wonderful gesture.

If you have any questions about canning or food saving, feel free to direct message me on Instagram @festivelysouthernjill.

Mango Jam

This jam is very versatile. It is delicious on toast, on top of vanilla ice cream or as a pop of flavor for thumbprint cookies or flaky tarts.

7 cups sugar

4 cups diced mangoes

1/2 cup water

3 tablespoons powdered pectin

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Wash, peel and dice the mango flesh. › Put into a large, heavy-based pot. › Add the water and lemon juice and simmer, uncovered, until the fruit is soft. › Mash the mango for a chunky jam or puree for a smooth jam. › Leave the fruit on the stove and prepare the jars and lids. › Cover the jars with water and boil for 10 minutes, then leave them in the hot water. › Put the lids into a bowl and pour boiling water over them. › Let them sit until you are ready to seal the jars. › To finish the jam, whisk the pectin into the fruit and bring to a boil. › Add the sugar all at once and bring to a rolling boil for 1 minute. › Turn off the heat and skim the foam from the top. › Ladle the hot fruit mixture into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch of space at the top. › Remove any bubbles with the tool from the canning kit. › Wipe the rims clean and put the lids on. › Process in a boiling water bath canner for 10 minutes (start timer once water is at a full boil). › When the time is up, turn the heat off and rest the jars in the water for 5 minutes. › Using the jar lifting tool, carefully place the jars onto a towel-covered surface and allow them to cool overnight. › The next day, check the lids for a good seal. › Label the jars and store in a cool, dark place for up to 12 months.

Pesto

3 cups fresh basil, lightly packed

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/3 cup toasted pine nuts

3 cloves garlic

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper, freshly cracked

In a food processor or blender, pulse the basil, Parmesan, pine nuts, garlic, salt and pepper together until finely chopped. › With the food processor or blender still running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil until it is completely combined. › Pause the food processor or blender and scrape down the sides, then pulse again until the mixture is smooth. › Serve immediately or refrigerate in a sealed container for up to three days or freeze for up to three months.

Fresh Tomato Sauce

This is my favorite basic tomato sauce—just add some lemon juice to bump up the acidity to safe levels for canning (Note: the USDA recommends bottled rather than fresh-squeezed juice for standardized acidity.) This is a neutral base for recipes from weeknight pizzas to a fancy lasagna.

15 pounds ripe tomatoes

1/4 to 1/2 cup bottled lemon juice

1/4 cup basil, freshly torn

1 garlic bulb, thinly sliced

2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Bring a 6-quart or larger Dutch oven or stockpot of water to a boil over high heat. › Fill a large bowl with ice and water and set this next to the stove. › To prepare the tomatoes for blanching, core out the stems and slice a shallow “X” in the bottom of each fruit. › Working in batches, drop several tomatoes into the boiling water. › When you see the skin starting to wrinkle and split, about 45 to 60 seconds, lift the tomatoes out with a slotted spoon and put them in the ice water. › Continue with the rest of the tomatoes, transferring the cooled tomatoes from the ice water to another large bowl. › Peel the tomatoes by using your hands or a paring knife to strip the skins.Discard the water used to boil the tomatoes. › Coarsely chop the tomatoes. › Working in batches, place the tomatoes in the food processor, fitted with the blade attachment. › Pulse a few times for chunkier sauce or process until smooth for a pureed sauce. › Alternatively, chop the tomatoes by hand. › For a smoother sauce, process through a food mill. › For a very chunky sauce, skip this step entirely and let the tomatoes break down into large pieces as they cook. › Transfer each batch into the Dutch oven or stockpot and add the basil, garlic, salt and red pepper flakes. › Bring the tomato sauce to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sauce reaches the taste and consistency you like, for about 30 to 90 minutes. › Prepare the jars and lids as described in the mango jam recipe, then follow the rest of the steps for ladling in the sauce, putting the jars in the water bath canner, etc. › Before sealing, add 1 tablespoon lemon juice to each pint or 2 tablespoons lemon juice to each quart for safe pH levels.

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