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Sunday, July 11, 2010

Canning with Jamlady

Yesterday at Half Price Books, I picked up a copy of Pickles to Relish, which is apparently written by a woman named Beverly Schoonmaker Alfeld and her alter ego Jamlady. Really. I tried to read the book from cover to cover, but it's written in this informative yet strangely opaque manner that makes it tough to get through whole pages, let alone whole paragraphs. You see, Jamlady is a fan of bold type, presumably for emphasis, but the end result is pages of dense wording with half of every other line in bold. If only she had followed these important rules.

Her love affair with bold type aside, the pictures of the more savory side of canning were enough to get me out into my garden in the heat to pick some green tomatoes and peppers for my first attempt at a Jamlady recipe. The recipes themselves are densely packed throughout this book, and the author has created her own canning notation system, that she alternately calls (in bold) the Alfeld Nomenclature System and the Alfeld Notation System. Sounds pretty professional, right? Somewhere in this book, I missed the explanation that the system is hers alone, and instead made the incorrect assumption that this is standard canning shorthand. Let me give you an example. For the recipe I'm going to try today, here's the ANS: JSP/RWB10(16OZ)A. Think you can just slap that label on your canned goods and the rest of the canning world will actually know what you're talking about? Think again, my friends. What that label means is "Jam/Seal/Process in a Rolling Water Bath for 10 minutes for a 16oz jar with an Adjustment for altitudes above 1,000 feet." So it's great shorthand, it's just that no one but you and Jamlady (and me!) will know what you mean when you use it. Read a little more about what others are saying about Jamlady and her books here and here.

Her linguistic exercises shouldn't dissuade you from trying out her book, however. It's filled with interesting minutiae on the history of canning, the scientific basis for the recipes and detailed explanations of the importance of pH balance in home canning. For a novice canner like myself, it's a great guide. I'll let you know how the canned green tomatoes and peppers turn out when I crack 'em open. If you're new to canning like me, it's a good idea to look around for yourself on the web for a primer on canning and sterilization, as the health risks are aplenty if you take a wrong turn. Try here, here and here for the basics.
And in case you were wondering, this recipe does not qualify as nightshade-free in any form or fashion. Sorry, honey.

If you're like me, you aren't using an actual canner, but instead are using a deep stainless steel or other nonreactive pot, deep enough to cover upright jars with 1 to 2 inches of water without boiling over and making a huge mess (guilty!). I actually used an asparagus steamer, which is perfect for canning one can at a time but not much for making edible asparagus, and it comes with it's own steamer basket that lets you easily lift the can out of the pot. You can use any type of basket or colander to keep the jars off the bottom of the pot (breakage potential), or string lid rings together with twist ties per Jamlady's suggestion. I used one pint Mason jar with a metal lid and band. You can reuse jars an d bands, but the lids will only seal properly for one use, so make sure you get fresh lids. You can buy them at most grocery stores and here in Austin at Callahan's.

Recipe adapted from Pickles to Relish by Beverly Ellen Schoonmaker Alfeld (sweet name, BTW):

Kosher-Style Dilled Green Tomatoes

Per pint jar:
Fresh, firm green tomatoes
2 garlic cloves
1/2 tsp dill seed
1/4 tsp celery seed
10 peppercorns
5 allspice berries
4 mixed garden peppers (Anaheim, bell)
For the brine:
2 1/2 cups cider vinegar
4 cups hot water
1/2 cup salt + 1 tbsp pickling salt (no iodine added)
*You'll have leftover brine if you only use one pint.

Fill pot with hot water and bring to a rolling boil. Sterilize jars, lids, bands & funnel (if you're using one, which I didn't) in rolling water bath for 10 minutes. Remove carefully with tongs and place on clean dishtowel. Meanwhile, bring brine to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Bring water in pot back to a rolling boil. Fill jar with vegetables and spices and pour hot brine over them with a ladle or a funnel. Leave approximately 1/2 inch of headspace in jars. The seal is formed when the product cools and a vacuum is created, making the product shelf-stable. Put the lids on the jars and secure with the rings, but you don't have to use all your might to secure the lids. Just close the jar and the processing will take care of the rest.

Process jars by placing in the rolling water bath for 10 minutes. Jamlady instructs us to put a lid on the pot, but mine just isn't deep enough for that without it boiling over, so fair warning. Remove jars *very carefully* and place on dishtowel overnight to cool. You should hear a popping noise as the jars seal, and you can check each jar after it cools by pressing in the middle of the metal lid. Resist the urge to tighten the lid during the cooling off period! If the lid is depressed, you've got a seal. If the lid pops back, just refrigerate the jars and eat them within the month.

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