Master Food Preserver Manual

I recently added a “resources” tab to my blog, to which I have been adding some of my favourite extension service publications, and products I love. In preparation for the upcoming preservation season, I had been thinking to myself, “how could I make this as useful and accessible to people as possible?” What I came up with was to provide you with all of the resources that are available in my Master Food Preserver notebook. When I started the MFP program last year, I got the notebook pictured below, which has a ton of different extension service publications complied into one handy (albeit giant) binder. So I wanted to make that virtually available to you in a well organized fashion, until I found out it is already available online! So exciting!! So if you are looking for basically all the publications that you need to safely prepare and preserve food safely at home click here. It’s all available free online on the OSU extension website – who knew! This is an amazing and FREE resource, check it out! The key was that it’s under faculty resources. All these publications are available online, but this is the first time I’ve seen them all organized together. Of course the tips for volunteers section isn’t important for you, but the rest of the chapters are nicely laid out and accessible. Enjoy, and happy preserving! 

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Do you refer to extension service publications? What’s your go-to source for recipes and instructions?

Queso Fresco Cheese

Back in week 5 of my Master Food Preserver class posts I had mentioned that we learned how to make queso fresco cheese but never posted the full instructions, so here they are! This one pictured below had some added herbs. Mmm. These instructions come from PNW 539.

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The first important thing with cheese making is to sanitize all your equipment. Cheese won’t be boiled, so sanitize all your spoons, knifes, bowls and other equipment by boiling it or soaking it in a bleach water solution for 2 minutes (one tablespoon bleach per gallon of water). You should also use pasteurized milk to make your cheese. If you have raw milk you can home pasteurize it by heating it to 145 F for 30 minutes.

On to the making of the cheese. To make cheese you need a thermometer, and it needs to be correctly calibrated. You can check it by placing it in ice water to ensure it reads 32 F or 0 C.

Ingredients:
1/2 cup cold tap water
Junket Rennett tablet
One quart cultured buttermilk
Two quarts pasteurized milk
7 tsp white vinegar
1 3/4 tsp salt

First, place one Junket Rennett tablet into the half cup of cold water and let it dissolve.

Meanwhile, combine the buttermilk, milk, and vinegar and mix well. Heat to 90F and then remove the pan from the heat. Add the dissolved rennet and mix for about two minutes.

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Let it stand for 30 to 40 minutes, undisturbed, until the curd is firm. Once firm, cut the curd into one inch cubes. This seems a bit odd, like you are cutting a liquid, but just go with it. Run the knife through at inch ish intervals. Let stand five more minutes. Heat the curds and whey again, to 115 F. Resist the urge to stir, just hold the thermometer carefully in there and heat it slowly. Once at 115 F, remove from heat and let stand five more minutes.

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Pour the mixture through cheesecloth in a colander and allow it to drain for five minutes.

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Then form the curd into a ball and twist the cheesecloth as pictured to gently squeeze out the whey.

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Break the curds up in a bowl and add the salt. Mix, and let stand for five more minutes. Squeeze through cheesecloth once again. The herb cheese pictured at the top of this post was perhaps a little drier than queso fresco typically is, so don’t over squeeze the cheese if you want a moister cheese. Form the cheese in a bowl or other mold. Remove from the mold. Refrigerate for up to a week.

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Easy peasy right? Just some heating and waiting and squeezing. This is one of the easiest cheeses to make, so if you’re wanting to get your feet wet in cheese making this is a great place to start.

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An obsolete tool due to new recommendations

There is big news in the canning world people, hot off the presses! This comes straight from my Master Food Preserver meeting this month, and you’ll start to see the recommendations coming out on the packaging soon. What packaging? Your canning lids! The tool you are looking at pictured below will never be needed again. Yep, that fun lid magnet that is either barely magnetic enough to pick up a hot lid, or so magnetic it picks up 4 (like the one in MFP class) is no longer a necessary tool in your canning kit. We no longer need to preheat our jar lids people!

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According to new recommendations by the makers of Ball and Kerr lids, there is no need to heat your lids anymore. This is the last picture you’ll see on my blog of jar lids warming before they are put on the jars. They’ve been testing the lids, and with the sealing compound they make these days, they don’t seal any better if they are heated before going on the jar. So, you can start skipping that step. Wooohoooo 15 seconds saved! But really, I am quite happy to hear this because it always seemed unnecessary to me, but being a good little rule follower I usually remembered to do it. Or at least remembered at the last second and dipped my lids for a second into the canner that was warming up and figured that was good enough. Hopefully none of you bought this ridiculous tool recently or you’ll be looking for some other use for it. Good luck. That’s $9.14 well wasted. I guess if you ever needed to sterilize the lids for another purpose you could still use it?? Ha. But anyways, the official ruling is to just wash the lids as you would the jars, and use them. Remember, as always, they are still meant for single use. Happy canning!

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Master Food Preserver Class – Week 7

Week 7 of the Master Food Preserver class was a big old meat fest. We made jerky, smoked fish, pickled fish, and cooked up some summer sausage. This post will be the last in the Master Food Preserver series (I know, so sad), as week 8 was just our presentations and planning for the epic events of this summer. But don’t worry, there is still much more knowledge in that massive notebook of mine that I will continue to share with you all.

The first thing we did in class was make beef jerky. Beef jerky can be made safely at home, but there are just a couple of precautions that you need to take to ensure it is safe. The PNW 632  publication (click it for the link) is full of excellent information for making jerky, but I’ll give you the summary version here.

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Bacterial contamination is a concern when making jerky, which is why it needs to be sufficiently heated to ensure any pathogens are destroyed. Three methods can be used to do this: post-drying heating, precooking the meat, and a vinegar soak. The post drying heating is perhaps the easiest, all you do is cook the jerky in the oven at 275F for 10 minutes after it is done. This is the method I tend to use. Preheating is done either by cooking the jerky strips in hot brine for about 1.5-2 minutes, which obviously doesn’t really work for ground meat jerky, or by cooking in the oven at 325F until an internal temperature of 160F (165F for poultry) is reached. You need a nice thin tipped thermometer for this. Lastly, soaking the meat in vinegar has been shown to be effective as well, but of course gives the jerky a very vinegary flavour. It’s also not been tested for game meats. And that’s basically all there is to it for safety. Jerky can be dried at the highest setting in a dehydrator (145-155F) or in an oven. But for the oven you really need to test if it can maintain those temperatures first.

Other notes about jerky:
– Yes, you can use other meats like poultry, fish and game meats.
– Just recently the recommendations have changed and it is okay to use ground meat, so long as you post dry heat it. Get the leanest meat possible, 93% lean or greater. The concern with ground meat is that the bacteria that could have been on the surface is distributed throughout by grinding, so use extra caution when making ground meat jerky.
A jerky gun can be useful for shaping ground meat into strips.
– To easily cut jerky from steaks, partially freeze it so you can cut even strips; aim for about  1/8-1/4 inch thick.
– To test for doneness, cool the jerky slightly and try bending it. If it bends and cracks it is done. You don’t want it to snap right in half or it’s over done but if it is bendy but still doesn’t really break it’s not done. Ya, it sounds a bit wishy washy, but you get the feel for it pretty quickly.
– When the jerky is done, condition it in a jar or other container, loosely packed. Conditioning basically just means they sit there for a couple says and equalize in moisture content. Shake it occasionally. If you see moisture collect in your container, they are not dry enough.
– Store jerky in a cool dark place. I like to just store it in a quart jar. It will keep for 2 weeks at room temperature, 3-6 months in the refrigerator, and up to a year in the freezer.
– Nom nom nom

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The next thing we did for meat week was to learn about smoking fish. As with jerky, this can be done safely at home, but there are precautions you should follow to ensure a safe product. Additionally, products need to be refrigerated or frozen when made at home as a precaution, even though you can find commercial products that are safely stored at room temperature. This is due to us not being 100% certain of the salt and moisture content when making it at home. Canning your smoked fish is also an option.

If you want more information beyond what I provide here, the publication for this one is PNW 238 (again click for the link).

In summary:
– Smoked fish must reach an internal temperature of 150F (preferably 160F) and hold at that temperature for 30 minutes. This is important to kill bacteria such as Clostridium botulinum.
– Fish must be salted or brined, and since at home it is difficult to measure salt content, this is why as an added precaution the product must be refrigerated.
– Salt fish in a solution of 1 part table salt to 7 parts water, by volume. Brine for about an hour, although fatty or larger pieces of fish need 2 hours. Less fat = less brine time. Experiment with your fish – it should taste salty, but not unpleasantly so.
– After brining, fish is air dried until a pellicle (shiny, tacky skin) forms. This is usually at least 1 hour. After it forms it is ready to be smoked.
– Fish should be smoked then cooked. Smoke at 90F for up to 2 hours, then increase the temperature until the internal temperature of 150F is reached and maintained. This means the smoker temperature needs to be around 220-225F. If this cannot be achieved in your smoker, heat the fish in the oven after it’s smoked.
– Use hardwood for smoking, soft woods make unpleasant fish.
– If canning your smoked fish, just smoke the fish lightly, for up to 2 hours, then can immediately. Pints will need to be canned for 110 minutes. For full instructions follow the PNW 450 publication.
– Don’t store longer than 2 weeks in the fridge, freeze or can if you want to store it longer.

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I wish this were full and I got to take it alllllllll home with me.

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Mmmm smoked salmon. Makes me want to take a fishing trip to Alaska so badly!

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Honestly, I didn’t even taste the pickled fish because it seemed gross, but I promise I will, so for now I’m just going to provide you that publication, PNW 183, because I can’t really claim any insight here.

The last and meatiest product we made was summer sausage. In contrast with jerky, for summer sausage you want fatty fatty fattiness. It tastes pretty good, but I have to admit that I was a little bit grossed out making it. Honestly I don’t think it’s something I will really try making at home, but it was interesting to learn about. The extension service publication that you can refer to is SP 50-735. My only real original thought on the subject, since this was the one and only time I’ve experienced homemade sausage, is that I preferred the texture when we cooked it in the oven, as opposed to a pressure cooker. Both tasted very similar, but it was the texture that I found I preferred. So, that’s all I really have to say on that…check out those sausages.

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So! If you’re a meat lover, get out there and make some meaty meaty products!

 

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Master Food Preserver Class – Week 6

I was a little sad that by week 6 of my Master Food Preserver class we were done with canning. Maybe that’s why it’s taken me so long to write this post 😉 But actually, I learned a lot about dehydrating fruits and vegetables, which was great because it is something I have a little less experience with doing at home.  Some of the fun things we either made in class or they had for demos are pictured below. From left to right we have: figs, green beans, tomatillos, canned apples that were dried, strawberries, zucchini, and regular apples.

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One awesome thing about dehydrating is there are not too many safety concerns, as with canning. Things are more flexible, such as how large you want to cut pieces of food and how long you want to dry them. Now they should be sufficiently dry, but there is still a bit of flexibility there. Microorganisms and enzymes require water, so when you dehydrate food, you make conditions that are not favourable for food spoilage. It has been shown that pathogens can survive the food drying process, but there are actually no documented cases of people becoming ill from home dried foods, so it is a pretty safe preservation technique. You can also pretreat fruits with either an acid solution (citric or ascorbic acid), or sodium metabisulfite, and blanch vegetables to reduce this risk even further. Also, let’s keep meat in the back of our heads as a side note. Today I’m referring to drying fruits and veggies, and week 7 we talked more about drying meats, which have a couple safety steps that you need to remember.

Fruits and veggies can be dried using a dehydrator, your oven, solar dehydrators, or many things like herbs can simply be air dried. Commercial dehydrators, like this one which I have, can be a worthwhile investment if you are going to do a lot of drying. Using your oven often creates a lower quality product, partially because ovens are not really designed for the low temperatures at which you normally would dry things. The oven will also take longer and use more energy than a dehydrator.

Here are a few things we made in class.

Strawberries.

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Tomatillos.

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And what they look like after they’ve been dried. Janice described them as a tart, sweet surprise. Perfect description!

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So how does the nutrition of dried foods compare to fresh? One of the things that does become diminished in drying is the vitamin C, and this is because it is a water soluble vitamin, and drying eliminates much of the water content of the food. Doing pretreatments of fruit, such as the ascorbic acid dip, helps to reduce nutrient loss, preserves colour and flavour and increases the quality and storage life of dried foods. As an example of these pretreatments, fruits can be dipped for 10 minutes into pure pineapple, orange or lemon juice, or a mixture of 1/2 teaspoon ascorbic acid per quart of water. To destroy more of the pathogens and be extra safe, this can be increased to 8 teaspoons of ascorbic acid per quart of water. Be sure not to over soak the foods, or nutrients can end up being lost, and drying time will increase. For many vegetables, you should blanch as a pretreatment, just like when freezing, to destroy enzymes. Different vegetables should be blanched for differing amounts of time, but in general they should remain firm but still be tender. That can be hard to gauge, so look up blanching times and other awesome information in this great extension service publication found here

One of my favourite ways to dehydrate is by making fruit leather, such as this strawberry fruit leather I posted recently. Fruit leathers have a few advantages. First, I love the reduced amount of chopping. Slicing strawberries, like pictured above, and drying those, is a heck of a lot more effort than pureeing in a blender and pouring on a tray. You do need the extra trays, however, but I think they are worth the investment. I prefer the texture somewhat as well, because fruit leathers are done when they are still a bit tacky, and not brittle.

In class we made “pizza leather” which is 15oz of stewed tomatoes, 8 oz of tomato sauce, and dried herbs on top. It is a pretty tasty snack.

Spreading tomato sauce out for the pizza leather.

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And once it is done. I think it would be delicious slapped on a toasted English muffin with some mozzarella cheese. mmmmmm.

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Vegetables can be great to dehydrate to later use in things like soups. For these, we pretreated the celery by blanching for about a minute, but we did not treat the zucchini or onions.

When you want to use dehydrated vegetables, some times you will want to rehydrate them first. Soak them in 1.5-2 cups of water per cup of dried vegetables, and add more if needed. They should plump to the size before they were dehydrated. They can also just be put straight into soup or stew and rehydrate in the broth.

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Zucchini chips are a great way to use up excess zucchini. You know that you will be rolling in it soon! My first one is about ready to harvest.

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Dried green beans. Yup, just randomly inserted here because they were pretty.

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Dried foods should be stored in air tight, food grade storage containers. Canning jars are pretty great for this if you already have a lot on hand. Some times though, little critters can still get in there. Ewwww. Obviously, discard something this nasty.

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And finally, our bounty of dried foods. It’s crazy how much things shrivel down. OK, now I am hungry. Time for some lunch.

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Master Food Preserver Class – Week 3

Week three of Master Food Preserver Class was all about preserving low acid foods. Which means pressure canning! A lot of people are scared of pressure canning, and there are a few things that I think you should have a healthy fear of  – like botulism, but done correctly there is no reason to be afraid of pressure canning. Your pressure canner is not going to explode or anything like that. Even if you accidentally over pressurized it, there is a little safety value that pops off. So ya, you could have a mess on your ceiling, but that’s also only if you really aren’t paying attention. So, I am here to give you some facts about canning, and hopefully dispel some of the pressure canning jitters.

A pressure canner is mandatory if you want to can anything with a pH of 4.6 or above. These low acid foods include any vegetables, meats and combo foods like soups. To toss in some pictures, here is my very first canning project – green beans!

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When picking a pressure canner, there are a couple things to consider. For one, to safely heat the food, a pressure canner must be large enough to hold 4 quart jars minimum. Most are designed for 7 quarts, and the taller ones can fit two layers of pints. The one below is mine, a 23-quart presto. There are two types of pressure canners: weighted gauge and dial guage (dial pictured below). Dial gauges need to be tested every year for accuracy, and the dial replaced if it is off by more than two psi. Usually they stay accurate a long time unless they are bumped, or dropped or something, but you definitely want to check it every year. Your local extension office should be able to do it for you! Dial gauge canners never need to be tested, but only do 5, 10 and 15 psi, so if you need to adjust for altitude, you have to use the 15psi weight. I prefer the dial gauge just because I am a very visual person and like to be able to see that I am at the correct pressure. Some weighted gauge ones also have a dial though. With the weighted gauge you just listen for it venting every 15-20 seconds.

OK, so why do we need pressure canners anyways? Why can’t we just hot water bath can everything? The answer to this is basically one bacteria – Clostridium botulinum, which is the bacteria that produces the botulism toxin, causing severe neurological illness. C. botulinum thrives at pH 4.6-7.0, which is why anything with a pH above 4.6 must be pressure canned (for extra safety most recipes are desgined with 4.2 as the goal). Ideal growing conditions for C. botulinum are anaerobic conditions (without air), moist conditions, around room temperature, with the pH 4.6-7. These are the exact conditions created in a canning jar. However, there is a way to kill C. botulinum, and that is by bringing it to a temperature of 240 F and holding it there for a set amount of time. This cannot be achieved in a boiling water bath – water boils at 212 F.

Other facts about pressure canning:
– When pressure canning (actually any canning) follow safe, approved recipes, like from Ball, So Easy to Preserve, or the National Center for Home Food Preservation website
– Canning times differ for different products due to their texture, density and pH
– Canning at sea level is at 11 psi. Always adjust for your altitude.
– If your canner ever drops below 11 psi while canning, return to pressure and start the time over
– Don’t skip the 10 minute vent time. This vents cold air from the canner to ensure proper processing.
– Pack the jars as listed in the recipe. For example, use appropriate head space. Also, for soups you need to fill half with solids (no more) and top off with liquid.
– Never try to force a canner to cool, just let it cool naturally at room temperature until the safety plug drops. At that point, remove the weight, wait 10 more minutes, then it can be emptied.

OK, and on too the fun pictures. We did beans in class (two types) and a spicy tomato veggie soup. So delish. I’ll update this post with links to the recipes once I post them.

White beans ready to be heated.

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Spooning the rehydrated beans into jars.

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Small red beans.

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With bacon!!

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Most pressure canned items need 1 or 1.5 inch head space. This is below the bottom of the threading by a good centimetre.

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Beans in syrup with bacon!

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My group worked on the spicy tomato soup. SO GOOD! I need to make a giant batch of this when tomato season hits!

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Half full of solids first, then you top off with liquid.

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Eating the leftovers.

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Sorry to taunt you with these pictures and not the full details, but the recipes are coming soon!

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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.

Freezing
– 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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