The babbling botanist featured on!

Beef jerky

Exciting news folks – a new post by the babbling botanist is on! This past week I was asked by Sean Timberlake, the food preservation expert at, to write a guest post for the site. I decided to discuss how to safely make homemade beef jerky, and the recipe is now available, so go check it out! It’s a delicious and easy homemade snack. Shortly I’ll be posting a slightly longer version here (with more pictures of the steps mostly) and a few additional tips, and I’ll also be posting the ground meat version shortly for those who prefer jerky from ground meat. So stay tuned for that, but in the meantime go check out my post on

Master Food Preserver Class – Week 4

Week 4 of Master Food Preserver class was all about pickling!

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What is pickling anyway? Well Janice, our awesome instructor, had a funny quote up on the board: “A pickle is a cucumber soured by a jarring experience.” HA! Well, I was entertained at least. But this is not entirely true; A pickle doesn’t need to be a cucumber, and it doesn’t always need to be jarred either! In fact, there wasn’t one cucumber in class, we did all sorts of other types of pickles instead. Pickling is basically the process of adding a high concentration of acid to a food to prevent the growth of microorganisms.

There are 4 basic types of pickles – you can pickle a lot more things than just cucumbers!
– Fresh pack or quick pickles
– Brined of fermented pickles
– Fruit pickles
– Relishes and Chutneys

Quick pickles are made when you combine the ingredients and immediately process, versus a fermented pickle that sits for a few weeks and ferments, producing its own acids. Fermentation in vegetables and fruits is the anaerobic breakdown of sugars into acid. In veggies, naturally present bacteria breaks down the sugars, and in fruits, it is yeast that converts the sugar first to alcohol, then to acid. The acid formed is lactic acid, as opposed to the acetic acid from vinegar which we use in quick pickles.

Relishes are seasoned sauces made from chopped fruits or veggies, and chutneys are fruit relishes with fruits and/or veggies and nuts. They are a sweet and sour blend of vinegar and spices.

The first thing we did in class was asparagus pickles. This is a fresh pack or quick pickle, because what we did was combine the asparagus with spices, water, vinegar and salt, put it into jars, and immediately process it in a boiling water bath canner.

Asparagus ready to be pickled.

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Mmmm. Now we wait a few weeks for them to absorb that vinegary deliciousness.

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We then split into four groups and each made a different pickled product. One group was in charge of this mango chutney.

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Chutneys are a little weird to me. I haven’t actually tried it yet, but I will let you know if I find an amazing use for my jar of this.

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All prepared and in the jars.

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Another group made this corn relish.

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I was on team beet pickle. If you know me you know I love me some beets.


It looks like a bit of a murder scene when you cut up beets. Especially precooked ones.

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I would definitely recommend gloves, unless you love having red hands. It doesn’t really bother me, but it does stain quite nicely. Helps you understand the term “beet red” 😉


I would not recommend doing this in half pints. This was simply so that the whole class got a jar to take home. Go pints or even quarts for sure. If you are looking for a recipe, I actually posted one a little while ago here.

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And finally, we pickled some onions.

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They made for a pretty attractive pickle.

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Pretty good haul! I never really used to be a big fan of pickles, but they sure are growing on me.

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OK now that you’ve enjoyed the picture show, we’ll finish with some pickling rules:
– Always use at least a 1:1 ratio of water to vinegar making quick pickles. It’s not safe to use less vinegar or more water. If it’s too tart for your taste, add a teeny bit of sugar
– Use vinegar with 5% acidity, there are some tricky brands out there that are only 4%
– When making fermented pickles, don’t reduce the salt. And if you want to can it, don’t do so until they have a sour flavour.
– Always use pickling/canning salt rather than regular table salt
– You can swap the type of vinegar, as long as it is 5% acidity. Some people prefer the milder flavour of cider vinegar, go for it!
– The spices can be changed to taste. Adding more garlic or dill to your pickles is a-ok. This is one thing that is not a safety issue.

The last thing we did on pickling day was make flavoured vinegar. And this is a nice way to end, because as Janice said – there are no rules. When you make flavoured vinegar, it’s basically safe to chuck in whatever you like. Buy some cheap white wine vinegar in bulk and flavour it yourself by filling a jar with whatever spices you like and cover with vinegar. We tried some delicious berry ones as well, and I am super excited to make some this summer for some delicious vinaigrette. These are fine stored at room temperature. Once they have steeped to your satisfaction, they can also be processed in a boiling water bath canner if you really want to.

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My white wine vinegar, full of herbs, and a chive flower.

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Master Food Preserver Class – Week 2

I promised to post about master food preserver class each week, so here is what we learned in last Thursday’s class! I took 116 photos in class during week 2, and it didn’t feel like enough, so you know it must have been a good class! And of course it means this post will basically be a picture show. 😉 This week we covered freezing, fruit pie fillings and soft spreads. So I would like to start off with some fun facts that I learned in class that you may or may not already know.

– The best way to freeze if you are going to do a bunch of stuff, is to turn your freezer extra cold (down to -10F) the day before so that things freeze quickly. Frozen goods should be kept at 0F or below, so once frozen return the temperature to 0.
– Vegetables should always be blanched before freezing to stop enzymes that would otherwise cause changes in colour, texture, flavour and nutritional value. Recommended blanching times vary by vegetable and range from 1-10 minutes

One thing we covered for freezing was freezing convenience foods. So we did just that, and will eat these food later in the class! YUM.

One convenience food we froze was a “meal in a bag”:
-1 chicken breast cooked and diced
– 2 cups blanched veggies (or frozen ones)
– 1 cup pasta cooked until almost done
– seasoning packet in a separate baggie (such as 2t chicken bouillon, 1/2t garlic powder, 1/2t onion powder, 1/2t paprika, 1t parsley, 2T parmesan cheese)

Freeze it all up in a baggie. When you want to eat it, dump it all in a wok, stir fry it up and … presto!

Chicken for the meal in a bag.

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Blanched veggies for the meal in a bag.

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Combine it all and freeze. A great idea if you have a free weekend day and freezer space!

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Another convenience food we froze was twice baked potatoes. nom nom nom.

Bake potatoes, halve, and remove innards to a large bowl.

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Mash and mix in milk, sour cream, garlic, salt, pepper and cheese.

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Refill, top with more cheese if desired, then freeze on a baking sheet. Once frozen, transfer to freezer containers. When you want to eat it, bake at 375F for 25-30 minutes.

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The last convenience food we did was cookies. Works with most cookie recipes.

Mix up the recipe.

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Mold into balls (and in this case dip in sugar – yum!)

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Freeze on a cookie sheet and then transfer to a freezer container. When you want to eat them bake without thawing at 400F for 10-15 minutes.

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Fruit pie filling (and juice hiding in back)

Most fruit pie filling recipes for canning call for clear jel. What is clear jel anyways? It’s a starch used for thickening, and is basically a modified corn starch. You shouldn’t used regular corn starch or other thickening agents in canning, because they are not specifically designed for canning like clear jel. Clear jel has been modified to make it more heat stable, so it can take the heat of the canning process. It is also stable in low pH, like the pH of fruits. It makes products more shelf stable, and doesn’t separate over time like other starches can. It can be reduced in recipes too if you don’t want quite as much. If you don’t like the starchy pie fillings though, don’t try and can a pie filling recipe without it. Either follow a recipe for canning fruit in syrup, and then drain the syrup to use it in pies, or freeze the fruit instead!

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Soft spreads

Fun fact. Do you know the difference between a jelly, jam, conserve, preserve and a marmalade?
Jam – made from crushed or chopped fruit
Jelly – made from fruit juice
Conserve – made with two or more fruits and nuts or raisins
Preserves – made with whole fruits, or large pieces, in a clear, slightly gelled syrup
Marmalade – made with soft fruit and citrus peel in a clear jel

In class we made the following soft spreads. Click the names to link to the full recipe posts.

Blueberry lime jam

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and all canned up.

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Jalapeno pepper jelly.

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Strawberry lemon marmalade.

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And strawberry rhubarb jam.

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So many delicious treats! And the day’s excellent haul.

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Master Food Preserver Class – Week 1

Week 1 of my Master Food Preserver class was pretty fun. We didn’t get to a ton of food preservation being the first week, but we did start sauerkraut and can up some apples. The major thing we got through was a lot of food safety, which makes sense for week 1. There honestly weren’t too many things that were news to me, but here are some interesting tidbits from the day that you may or may not be aware of.

“Danger zone” is not just a song. It’s also a range of temperatures which are optimal for bacterial growth, and therefore not optimal for food safety. 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit. Food shouldn’t remain in the danger zone for more than 2-3 hours or it can be unsafe. For me I think my biggest offence against this would be putting a really big pot of something in the fridge. It cools slowly enough that it can remain in the danger zone too long. Spreading food out in shallower dishes would help me to avoid remaining in the danger zone.

We also learned about foods that are more likely to be contaminated by bacteria (and should therefore be avoided by the young, sick, pregnant etc.) I knew almost all of these, but didn’t realize the sprouts were due to bacteria related reasons, and didn’t realize lunch meat was on the list.
– rare ground beef
– unpasteurized apple cider/juice
– uncooked hot dogs/ lunch meat
– alfalfa and bean sprouts
– lox (cold smoked fish)
-raw milk and raw cheese
– soft cheeses (feta, Brie, Camembert, Roquefort etc.)
– raw eggs

We also talked about basic canning equipment, a bit about the history of canning, and basic canning guidelines. But I could write about that for pages and pages, so I think I’ll work on this as a page of it’s own to eventually bring this blog to a full canning resource. In the meanwhile, refer to the USDA National Center for Home Food Preservation website 🙂

Another fun fact – the cut-off for what is a low acid food is pH 4.6. Anything above this must always be pressure canned. This includes all meats, vegetables, soups and stocks. And I’ll do full pages on these things some day because they are super interesting and important concepts.

Now for the fun part, we started out by getting sauerkraut started. Full recipe to come once it is ready. Yup, I’m going to make you wait.

Shredding the lettuce with a mandolin.

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After letting it sit with salt, filling the jars.

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So pretty!

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We also canned apples. Honestly I wouldn’t normally can apple slices straight up, but it is a good way to learn the concept of canning sliced fruit.

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And we did a fun experiment. We canned the apples in something like 16 different liquids, and we’ll taste test them later. I think this is a great idea because I’d never want to test these myself and then open all 16 at once, but there are almost 20 of us, including instructors, so I think it’s a great idea. I’m going to suggest we do it with pickle recipes too on that week. We did water, light syrup, medium syrup, heavy syrup, extra heavy syrup, brown sugar, honey, agave, stevia, splenda, orange juice, cranberry juice, pineapple juice, grape juice, apple juice… there may be one more I’m forgetting. But yes – what a fun idea!

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Well that about sums up the highlights for the day. More next week, mostly about jams and jellies, fruit pie filling, and freezing. Fun fun!!


A jam contest winner and an announcement – becoming a master food preserver

Congratulations to my jam content winner – Jenna! The random number gods have chosen you! I sent you an email about getting the jam from me. Yayyyyyy jam. Thanks to all of you who entered, I’ll do another giveaway soon.

My second announcement is another fun one. Starting this week I am taking the Master Food Preserver program through OSU Extension Service. Here’s the website if you’re interesting in looking into it.
It’s an awesome 8 week class where we’ll learn everything there is to know about food preservation. I feel like I know a lot already (got perfect on the pre-quiz at orientation 😉 ) but there is always more to learn. Safety, recipes, and so much more! The program is definitely not something that is available everywhere, which is why I am taking it this year even though it may not be the best time management decision, taking 8 full days and requiring 48 volunteer hours. But it will great, I’m super pumped. I am going to try and post each weekend about it, it’s one day a week on Thursdays 🙂 Here is the book they gave us. So much to learn! So many tabs!


And my first homework assignment. Woo! I look forward to telling you all about it 🙂


Happy Earth Day! Planting golden paintbrush, convincing you to can, and a jam giveaway!

Happy 2014 Earth Day! I hope you are all doing some earth friendly things today! For me, my field work that was planned for today was postponed until tomorrow, so I’m being green by “working from home.” HA! Anyways, it’s true, well, that I’m home, but all joking aside I wanted to share a couple things that I did do for the occasion, and a few that you can do too.

The first way I celebrated Earth Day was with the Institute for Applied Ecology. Every year we recruit volunteers and plant endangered plants. This year we planted 800 golden paintbrush (so far!) at William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge. This is my study species as many of you might know! We are proud to say it is well on its way to recovery. Here are a few pictures from the event.

Paintbrush in “cone-tainers” ready to go in the ground.

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A lovely flowering paintbrush

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And his comrades.

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Volunteers working hard to get plants in the ground.

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A paintbrush in his new home on our grid.

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Awesome! Aren’t they gorgeous?! Great way to spend the Saturday before Earth Day!

OK, now to totally switch gears to another Earth Day topic – canning! And other food preservation. I love to can (if you haven’t realized this yet, I’m not sure what blog you’ve been reading), but it’s not just fun and delicious. It can be good for the planet too, and for you! Yes, I’ve been posting a lot of sugary jam recipes lately, but really how much jam do I actually eat? And I do often go for much less sugar. But anyways, let me get to the point – here are my top reasons that you should start preserving this Earth Day . Some of them are earth friendly and some health friendly reasons.

1. It allows you to eat local even in the dead of winter.
This should really count are more than one reason since eating local has so many benefits:
– less emissions from your food travelling
– fresher food
– knowledge of where your food came from – talk to your farmer!
So many foods are available for only a short period, but preserve very well. Berries and fruits are
great canned and some freeze well also. Many vegetables can be pressure canned or are great
pickled, and freeze well. Herbs can be dried, or frozen in oil.

2. You produce less waste
Canning jars are reusable over and over again. Every time you eat a store bought canned good,
you either produce waste throwing it away, or even if you recycle it, it takes energy to do that.
Can your own and that jar is good until it get chipped or cracked!

3. You can customize your recipes (to a safe extent)
Certain things can’t be adjusted in canning because it makes recipes unsafe, such as the
amount of vinegar or lemon juice you add, but there are countless ways that you can customize
recipes to suit your needs
– Use less sugar and a low sugar pectin
– Try sweetening things with honey or stevia
– Adjust saltiness and spiciness to your preference
– Sweeten pickled goods that are too strong with a small amount of sweetener
– Choose the size of jar you preserve in to be appropriate for how much your family eats,
reducing wasted food

4. It can save you money
– Preserve things you grow yourself
– Buy in bulk at the peak of the season, split it with a friend to possibly save even more
– Go to pick your own places to get the same produce cheaper than at the market
Canning can end up being more expensive than store bought, such as when you buy a ton of
tomatoes to make sauce, so plan accordingly by planting the most expensive produce and
things you use the most.

5. People love it when you give canned goods away!

Which leads me to why you forced yourself to read this whole post – the jam giveaway! In celebration of Earth Day, and to spread the love of canning I am giving away one jar of my rhubarb orange jam (click for the recipe). Please enter by commenting below and telling me what you are doing to celebrate Earth Day. One entry per person, and it has to be a comment on the blog not the facebook page so it’s easier for me to just draw from one pool of comments. Good luck! Contest will close one week from today – April 29th at 9pm Pacific time. And for now, just open to US and Canada please. Thanks!

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