End of Season Freezer Tour

We officially had the first frost of the season, which means the bulk of the preservation season is over. I do still have some carrots, beets, and broccoli alive in the garden, but the tomatoes and peppers are toast. Sad, but luckily now we enter the phase of eating all these goodies which is also great! Being so busy this summer, I didn’t do nearly as much canning as last summer, but one thing that helped some with my time crunch was having a freezer this year. A chest freezer is really a great investment if you have the space, and I have not even noticed a change in the power bill. At this time of year it’s a great idea to go through your freezer, sort it, and determine what you have so that you ensure you actually eat those things throughout the winter. I just went through mine, so thought I’d give you a tour of it!

On the bottom here you can see that I had a very successful berry season. I tried to layer the bottom of the freezer with the berries, since I have so many, then have one of each bag more accessible, and I can grab another as needed.


On top of the berries I have some vegetables and meat that I froze this summer. Home grown broccoli vacuum sealed using my new food saver, corn from the local farm stand that I got when they were having an awesome sale, tomatoes from near the end of the season when they were growing slowly so I accumulate them until I have enough for some sauce, and some meats that I bought either on sale or in bulk from Costco.


On the next layer we have in that bag a turkey carcass which I plan to take out when I have more time and make stock with, we also have some corn dogs (mostly the boy – but everyone can’t be perfect in what they have in the freezer right?) and in the basket some bread and the last bit of smoked salmon from this summer.


All in all I think I did pretty well on berries (more than enough probably!) but would have liked to freeze a little more in the way of veggies. I do have winter squash that I still plan to cook, puree and add to my freezer stash, and once that carcass is out I’ll have a little more room for that, but overall I think the season was a success – the freezer is nearly full after all. I did also eat some of the things I preserved earlier this season – as it should be! Now go check out you freezer, and don’t let that stuff in the bottom sit there for the rest of eternity – eat it!

What things do you like to preserve by freezing? How was your preservation season this year?

Adventures in Smoking Salmon (Safely)


During the time I spent in Alaska I was able to enjoy a lot of salmon, especially smoked salmon, but it wasn’t until becoming a Master Food Preserver that I attempted to make smoked salmon myself. It’s not terribly hard, but you do of course need a smoker, some wood chips, and some patience. To make sure it’s done safely, a good thermometer, and preferably one you can leave inside the fish like this one, is also important. Now if you love smoked salmon as much as us, you know how expensive it is to buy, so gather up some gear and try it yourself. Also check out the publication on this topic PNW 238 Smoking Fish at Home – Safely and if you want to can your fish, check out Canning Smoked Fish at Home for how to safely can home smoked fish.

Here’s how it’s done. First, brine your fish in a salt water brine. If you want a sweet or spicy brine, you can certainly also add some brown sugar, spices, or whatever at this point, but salt is the key ingredient to help get the fish to dry out. The extension publication recommends a brine of 7 parts water, to one part salt to ensure enough salt in the final product. Place your fish in a single layer in a shallow pan, mix the salt and water (and whatever else you want to add) in a separate bowl, and pour it over your fish to completely submerge it in brine.

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Large pieces of fatty fish require the longest brine; smaller, leaner fish require less brine time. I brined the salmon (in the fridge) for close to two hours, as they were fairly large fillets. After the brine time completes, rinse the fish lightly, and leave it out to dry. You want a pellicle to form on the fish, which is basically a tacky clear film on the surface, because this will absorb in the smoke flavour much better than if we began smoking right away. It also helps to prevent spoilage. Placing the fish in front of a fan can speed up the process, but you’ll want to leave it for about an hour.

When you are getting a good pellicle, start up your smoker. We used a Smoke Hollow smoker like this one but others function similarly. Follow the manufacturers instructions, but basically there is usually one tray that you fill with water and another that you fill with wood chips. Use hard woods for smoking, as soft woods will leave an undesirable flavour on the fish. Fill these and start the smoker on a low temperature to start getting some smoke going.

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Place the racks full of fish into the smoker and close the door. Keep the heat around 90 F, bascially you want it hot enough that it is producing smoke, but not so hot that you are just cooking the fish. We want to first smoke it, then cook it. Smoke the fish for up to 2 hours at these low temperatures, and then increase the temperature of the smoker to between 200 – 225 F. To ensure your fish is safely cooked, we want to reach an internal temperature of 150-160 F and hold it there for 30 minutes. Now is the time you want your thermometer in the thickest piece of fish, on the top shelf where it’s coolest, and make sure you hit that temp. It’s nice to have one with a cord or long stem so you can feed it through the vent hole in the smoker and not have to open the door to continually check the temp. If you have a thermometer that alarms when you hit your set temperature, then even better! Hit that temp and maintain for 30 minutes.

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Now your salmon is done! Take it out and give it a taste. Deeeeelish! Refrigerate the fish for up to two weeks, or freeze for long term storage.

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To maintain the best quality product, vacuum seal your delcious bounty using a product like a Food Saver. I finally invested in one this year when Costco was having a sale since I now have a good sized freezer, and it’s really helping me maintain my food quality! mmm. Now this has made me hungry, off to make some salmon dip.

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Freezing Vegetables

This spring I bought myself a great present – a freezer. Thanks self!! Therefore, I have been doing a lot of freezing preservation this summer in addition to my usual canning. I must say I am love love loving it! Freezing is very easy, and some things of course do much better being frozen. Can you imagine canned broccoli? Ick, that would be gross. Anyways, there is basically just one very simple step needed to prepare vegetables for freezing. Most vegetables need to be blanched before freezing to stop the action of enzymes that will cause the quality of food to degrade. Blanching helps preserve texture, nutrition, and flavour of vegetables. One of our lovely master food preservers tested the utility of blanching by doing a batch of broccoli both with and without blanching and it really matters! Without blanching the broccoli had a much stronger, less desirable flavour. So don’t skip it! Here’s how:

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Step one is to harvest high quality veggies and process them as soon as possible. This year I actually had a successful broccoli crop – wooo! But by myself I am certainly not going to eat 5 heads at a time, so I froze a bunch.

Wash and trim your vegetables as you would plan to use them when you eat them.

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Blanch vegetables in boiling water or in steam. PNW 214 is a great resource for looking up how long different vegetables need to be blanched. For broccoli it is three minutes in boiling water or five minutes in steam. I love my blanching pot for this. Bring the water to a boil, add veggies, and start the time when the water returns to a boil.

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Cool vegetables under cold water for about the same amount of time as you blanched them.

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Dry and freeze! That’s all there is to it. With many things it works best to first spread things out on a baking sheet and freeze them, then package them once they are frozen. For best quality, package things in airtight containers. Air causes freezer burn and food quality to degrade more rapidly. I just got a FoodSaver to go along with my freezer (and by that I mean it went on sale at Costco so I impulse bought it) and something like this really helps maintain quality. If you don’t have one just try and remove as much air from bags as you can. I admit that I’ve sucked air out of berry bags with my mouth… silly but actually fairly effective. Don’t say I never suggested more economical methods ;)

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Have other questions about freezing? Ask me or check out the National Center’s FAQs here.

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Coconut, carrot, date, and sesame seed “cookies” – Go Raw clone recipe

My go to field snack is always granola bars, so last summer I was trying to mix things up and I discovered these delicious Go Raw cookies. They are tasty tasty! And pretty good for you – sprouted sesame seeds, carrots, coconut, dates and no added sugar. However, they are absurdly expensive, so I decided to try and make them myself. I finally got around to it last week when I harvested a bunch of carrots. They only have 5 ingredients, so I figured I could clone the recipe pretty easily. Here is what I came up with!

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1/2 cup finely shredded carrots
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup sesame seeds
1/2 cup chopped dates
1/2 tsp nutmeg

This recipe will fill approximately one dehydrator tray (quite fully), so multiply accordingly. I tried a few different ratios of the ingredients, and this one to one ratio was the one I liked best. I think it might be more dates than the Go Raw recipe, but it’s really tasty, and 1:1:1:1 is easy peasy to remember, to double, etc.

First I shredded the carrots through my food processor, then pulsed them to chop them up even more. For the dates, I pitted them and pulsed them in the food processor as well.

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Measure equal parts of the 4 ingredients and combine in a food processor. Add a bit of nutmeg, 1/4-1/2 tsp or to taste. If you don’t have a food processor do small batches in a blender, or mix it up by hand in a large bowl.

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Nom nom nom. Pretty and tasty!

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For drying you have two options. For option one I spread the mixture out evenly across a fruit leather tray on the dehydrator, then just broke it into pieces once dry.

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Alternatively you can form them into cookies. Mine were pretty large, much larger than the Go Raw cookies I was trying to clone, but you could make them any size. Smaller would of course dry faster. I was thinking that you could also roll this out almost like dough and use cookie cutters or cut it into squares with a knife. I think I’ll try that next time.

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Mine in back, Go Raw in front!

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I dried them for about 16 hours and they still weren’t quite crispy, but  they were a somewhat soft consistency that I liked. I think they might have been a little wetter too because I had more dates than the Go raw recipe. Dry until your desired consistency.



Tools I used for these:
My food processor
NESCO dehydrator
Fruit leather sheets

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Plum Sauce

mmmm plums. Last year I posted another plum sauce recipe, which was also delicious, but keeping with my desire to make every recipe from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, I decided to try their recipe this year. The only thing I changed from what’s in Ball is to add allspice, and remove some of the sugar. Make it with a mix of plum varieties for extra fun sauce!

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10 cups chopped pitted plums
3/4 cups finely chopped onion
2 tbsp chopped seeded chili pepper
1 cup cider vinegar
2 cups brown sugar
1 cup white sugar (optional in my opinion)
2 tbsp mustard seeds (I used 1 ish tbsp ground)
1 tbsp salt
2 cloves finely chopped garlic
1 tbsp finely chopped gingerroot
1/2 tsp allspice

To make it:

Dice the plums, pepper, onions, ginger, and garlic finely and combine everything except the plums in a large pot and bring to a boil. I thought 3 total cups of sugar sounded like too much, so left out the white sugar and decided I’d taste it and add in later if I wanted it sweeter. I didn’t end up adding in though, it’s plenty tasty without, so consider reducing it if you want a less sweet sauce; Ball tends to make things quite sweet.

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Add the diced plums and return to a boil. Reduce heat and continue to simmer for a few hours, until it reaches a good plum sauce consistency. When you are getting close, prepare 4 pint jars, or 8 half pints.

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Here it is reduced by about half, a few hours later.

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Fill hot jars, leaving a half inch head space. Wipe rims, apply lids, and tighten finger tip tight. Process in a boiling water bath canner, covered by at least 1-2 inches of water, for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, turn off heat, remove canner lid, wait 5 minutes, and remove jars to a hot pad or towel. Cool, check seals, label, and store.

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Gorgeous!! And tasty.


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Tomato Wine

Yes indeeeedy, you did read the title of the post correctly! Today we’re talking about making wine from tomatoes. Turns out that you can ferment pretty much anything. My tomato wine adventure actually took place last year, but now that I’ve had a chance to try it I’m ready to share. Last year when I had so so many tomatoes in late summer/early fall (over 300 pounds from my little garden!) I was looking for ideas on what else to do with them. I made so much sauce and salsa and wanted to try some new ideas. Of course I thought to myself, “I bet I could make wine out of these.” Turns out there is a guy that commercially makes it (as I found on this blog), and I also found a smattering of recipes online on how to make it. So here’s what I ended up trying based on a few things I saw, and based on my experiences with fruit wines. It turned out pretty nicely!

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4-5 pounds of tomatoes – the sweeter the variety the better
3 lbs dextrose
2 tsp acid blend
1/2 tsp pectic enzyme
1/2 tsp diammonium phosphate
1 tsp yeast nutrient
2 campden tablets
Lalvin K1-V1116 yeast    

For full and complete procedures, see my post on making fruit wine. But here is the short version of what I did to make it.

Combine all ingredients except the yeast in a sanitized primary fermenter. Mash up the tomatoes a little bit. Put on the lid and wait a day.

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After 24 hours add the yeast. You only need about half the package. Put the lid back on and let it ferment away. Punch the cap daily with a sanitized spoon, and after about 5-7 days when the cap is broken up a lot and fermentation is starting to slow, strain off the solids, and move to secondary fermentation. Allow the wine to sit until all solids settle out and it becomes clear, and fermentation ceases. Bottle, age a few months, and enjoy!

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Again, this is the super short version of how to do this, so if you want to try another fruit or get more details, click here. Now, I know what you’re thinking. How does it taste? Will I like it? Well, it’s actually a really interesting flavour. I’ve only had one bottle so far, but basically it tastes like white wine when it first hits your tongue, then you get the tomato flavour after that. Its faint, but is definitely there and tastes mildly like tomato juice. It’s also a bit more acidic than white wine, or at least mine seems that way. The blogger I cited above said she would have just thought it was a white grape wine, but I can’t say I fully agree with that. However, the flavour would also vary depending on what variety of tomato you used, and that wine maker was a professional. It’s not the kind of wine where you would probably want to drink a few big glasses of it, or maybe it will be, but it’s a nice compliment to a tomato based meal, and could also be used in cooking in place of white wine. 

Are you going to try it?


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Packing that Perfect Pickle Punch – Ten Tips for Firm Quick Pickles

There is nothing worse than opening a jar of homemade pickles, biting into one, and finding that they are all soggy and nasty. Blech! OK, nothing worse might be slight hyperbole, but you know what I mean. Many MFPs I know don’t even like making homemade pickles because they get so soft. But alas, I am here to help! Here are my top ten tips for keeping pickles firm and crispy – from the least, to most useful (in my humble opinion – I did reorder quite a few times). This is the publication where I got some of this info – here.

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10. Always use cucumber varieties meant for pickling – a pickling cucumber and cucumber for your salad were bred for different purposes.

9. Don’t bother with alum. OK this one is more of a tip of what not to do, but some recipes you will see, especially online or in older pubs, still call for alum. It actually doesn’t do much for your quick pickles, but may be somewhat useful in fermented pickles. So skip the alum and try #4 instead if you want.

8. Pickling lime.  The calcium in lime will help firm pickles. However, lime also lowers the acidity, so you have to soak cucumber in water multiple times following the soaking in lime to remove the excess lime for safety. It does really work, but to me it’s too much work.

7. Soak cucumbers in ice water. This helps firm the veggies as well, I could postulate on why but couldn’t find a good source for why it works. Perhaps it hydrates them, and the cooling keeps them firm somehow too. Ahem, because science.

6. Grape Leaves. Some people swear by using a grape leaf in each jar of pickles for keeping them firm, but apparently a grape leaf’s tannins keep the cucumbers firm by counteracting the enzymes found in the blossom end (see number 5). Thus, if you removed that the grape leaf may not add any more. But maybe you missed a blossom end, who knows.

5. Remove the blossom end. When your cucumber is growing, the bottom end of it is called the blossom end (where the flower was). Trim this end off of your cucumbers, as it contains enzymes that soften pickles. Just a little sliver off the end takes care of those enzymes.

4. Pickle crispPickle crisp is a Ball product, but I’m sure others make it too, as it is simply calcium chloride. Pickle Crisp helps keep pickles firm because the calcium helps firm the pectin in the cucumber, the same way lime does.

3. Don’t pickle over-mature cucumbers – start with a good quality veggie. Yes, sometimes the garden gets away from us and there are suddenly some big ole cucs on the vine and we are tempted to pickle them anyways. Don’t bother, unless you like mush. Big cucumbers may be hollow, or just be softer in the middle where the seeds are growing. Chop those up for your salad. Yes, I realize what I said in #10, but it works in this direction.

2. Pickle immediately. If you have your own garden this is easier, but do your best to pickle cucumbers as soon after picking them as you can. If buying them, ask the farmer when they were picked, or at least process them as soon after buying them as you can. Cucumbers will lose their firmness the longer you wait. Within 24 hours is ideal.

1. Low temperature pasteurization. To me this is the number 1 way to keep pickles firm, and often one overlooked because a lot of people don’t know it’s a thing. It might not be more important than using a good quality cuc to start with, but I put it first because so many people don’t know about it. Basically, overprocessing pickles can cause them to become soft. With low temp processing, you can process the recipes from this publication PNW 355 at 180-185 F instead of a full rolling boil. It works, it really works. For more on that see my experiment from last year – here.

Get picklin’!