An Easy Guide to Perfect Kombucha

Graphic with the text, "An easy guide to perfect Kombucha."

 

by Sam Doll

Sweet, sour, fizzy, and funky; Kombucha (or ‘Booch” for those in the know ?) has been super trendy of late. This fermented tea drink is chock full of healthy probiotics, antioxidants, and good vibes!

The thing is, it is pretty pricey at the supermarket. Most bottles of kombucha are around $3 or $4 and can sometimes be as much as $8! We think this is criminal considering how easy, cheap, and rewarding it can to make your own kombucha at home.

Our guide will tell you everything you need; from getting your first SCOBY to making your booch effervescent and yummy!

Wait, What’s A SCOBY?

As you may know, Kombucha is a fermented product. Fermenting food brings us some of our tastiest flavors and textures. Sauerkraut, beer, miso, yogurt, and sourdough are all examples of amazing, delicious foods that would be impossible without fermentation.

Fermentation might sound gross at first, but it really is just a clever way humans have discovered to preserve foods and get a little bit of help from the beneficial bacteria all around us.

When we let these little microbes, like lactobacillus and yeast, do some of our digestion for us. Sometimes, these guys give off byproducts like alcohol or lactic acid that make it harder for anything else to eat that food, preserving it.

So, what is a SCOBY? The word SCOBY is an acronym for Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast. Sometimes called the “mushroom” or the “mother”, a SCOBY is what transforms your tea concentrate to the unique flavor profile of kombucha.

Have extra SCOBY, here are 13 uses for all your excess!

This colony (or more accurately, community) of various bacteria species and yeast (a single-celled fungus that makes bread and beer possible) works together to eat up most of the sugar and breaks down a lot of the complex nutrients present in the tea into their easier to digest components. The probiotics and available nutrients in kombucha is what makes it so healthy for you!

The SCOBY is usually somewhat gelatinous and tough and will float at the top of whatever container it’s stored in. They will grow to whatever size container they have and will usually have a hockey-puck shape (if it’s in a cylindrical container).

Okay, Where Do I Get A SCOBY

There are a few ways to get your first SCOBY, here are our favorites.

A Friend

Most likely, you have a friend or coworker who makes kombucha. The SCOBY naturally grows and layers into split-able discs. Most kombucha brewers have more SCOBY than they know what to do with and would be more than happy to spread the good word and help out a fledgling brewer like yourself!

Don’t forget about who gave you that SCOBY either, more than likely one of you will need a new SCOBY at some point and you might be needed to return the favor!

 

 Order A Starter Culture

If you can’t find a ‘booch buddy’, you can always order a SCOBY online. There are plenty of reputable dealers available (we like the Fermentaholics SCOBY with starter tea).

When purchasing online, make sure that the SCOBY is packed in ‘starter tea’. This is the tea that has already been fermented by the SCOBY in a previous batch and is loaded with probiotics. Without this starter tea, your first fermentation will be slow, and it could allow mold to set in on your SCOBY.

Make Your Own

Full disclosure, we’ve never attempted to make our own SCOBY. Never been patient enough to wait around for it! It is possible though! So, we’ll refer you to the experts on growing a SCOBY at Cultures for Health

**Important Note**

Kombucha making is not a 100% proposal. If you see what could be mold growing on your SCOBY or anything weird going on in the liquid, it’s best to pitch the whole batch (SCOBY included) and start over. It stinks, but sometimes it needs to be done to stay safe!

This article is full of helpful tips so you can tell if your SCOBY is moldy or not.

Also, SCOBYs don’t like things getting switched up on them. If they are in green tea when they start, only use green tea. If they start in black tea, only use black tea.

The First Fermentation

Equipment

  • 1-gallon glass jar*
  • Wooden or plastic spoon for stirring
  • Cheesecloth
  • Kitchen twine

*Only use glass containers when making Kombucha. Metal will react with the acidity of the liquid and may impact SCOBY health and plastic can harbor unwanted bacteria.

Ingredients

  • 5 quarts water*
  • 8 bags of black or green tea (2 tbsps. of loose tea can be substituted)
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • Minimum 8 oz. starter tea from the previous batch
  • 1 SCOBY

*If you have hard tap water, use filtered water from the store. Kombucha does not like high mineral content in the water.

1. Sterilize

With all fermentation, you want to be careful to make sure you are only adding the good microbes to your kombucha. This means keeping a sterile environment. All utensils and containers used should be sterilized before use.

The easiest way to sterilize equipment is to boil it for at least 5 minutes. You can also use hot vinegar to sanitize equipment. Do NOT use any soap or chemicals, since they can kill your SCOBY. Make sure to not touch any surface that will come in contact with the kombucha, since your hands do harbor microbes that can ruin your batch. Similarly, be careful to avoid touching the SCOBY.

2.  Make the Tea Concentrate

Heat the water to a boil and add the sugar water. Stir until all the sugar is dissolved and add the tea. You can let the tea steep for a minimum of 10-15 minutes or wait until the tea is completely cooled (between 68-85ºF).

This is extremely important. If the tea is too hot when you add the starter tea and SCOBY to the mixture it can kill them.

Once cooled, remove tea and pour the concentrate into the fermentation jar.

3. Start the Fermentation

Once the base tea is cooled and in the jar, you can add the starter tea and SCOBY. Again, make sure not to touch the SCOBY. Use a clean spoon or tongs if you are having trouble moving it.

Once everything is in the fermentation jar, cover the top with a breathable material. We like a tightly woven cheesecloth or muslin. You can also use a clean dishtowel or coffee filter.

Secure the covering with a rubber band or kitchen twine to prevent any dust, debris, or insects from finding their way inside.

Find a dark place that the kombucha can remain undisturbed at room temperature and let it sit for 7-30 days. Taste every 7 days until it is where you want it. The sooner you stop the ferment, the sweeter it’ll be. The later, the sourer and funkier.

The Second Fermentation

Once your kombucha is done fermenting, you can feel free to drink it right then! If you want the full kombucha experience though, you’ll have to do a second fermentation. This is the stage where you will flavor your kombucha and let it carbonate.

Equipment

  • 6 16 oz. Fermentation grade swing-top bottles or 6. Pint-sized mason jars with lids and rings
  • Funnel

Ingredients (optional flavorings)*

  • 1-2 cups chopped fruit
  • 2-3 cups fruit juice
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 2 tbsp flavored/herbal tea

While it isn’t necessary to add any flavors to your kombucha, it can be a fun, creative experience that can make some special flavors. If you want suggestions of what flavors go well together, check out this article.

1.      Remove SCOBY

Once your Kombucha is where you like it, remove the SCOBY using clean utensils and place it on a clean plate. If the SCOBY is starting to layer (usually after about 4 brews) remove the older ‘mother’ from the bottom and save the ‘baby’.

Place the SCOBY in a clean, mason jar with at least 12 oz reserved starter tea. Store in the refrigerator until it’s time for your next brew.

2.      Prepare flavorings

This is where you get to make the kombucha your own. Prepare your flavors, using the guidelines above, and split it evenly among your bottles. Be careful when using ingredients like honey. If too much sugar is added, you can over-ferment and cause your bottles to burst.

Here are some Flavor Combinations that we like:

  • Ginger and Lemon
  • Kiwi
  • Honey and Lavender
  • Orange and Clove
  • Strawberry and Basil

 

3.      Bottling

Using clean bottles and a clean funnel, split the flavoring between your bottles and then pour the kombucha in.

Leave a minimum of an inch of hheadspacein the bottles so they properly carbonate and don’t over pressurize. The head space will also prevent the kombucha from spilling out when you open it.

4.      Wait it out

Let the kombucha sit for 1-3 days at room temperature, depending on the temperature, and then move them into the fridge

5.      Enjoy!

‘Nuf said!

 

 

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Graphic that says, "This Pumpkin Seed Recipe Is Scary Delicious."

by Sam Doll

There are so many reasons to enjoy the month of October, but one of the truly special traditions is carving spooky jack-o-lanterns for Halloween! While making funny faces and creative carvings can be a blast, I get most excited for turning the slimy guts of the pumpkins into crispy, salty, roasted pumpkin seeds.

If you are interested in other Halloween Crafts, check out these 9 great craft ideas!

Pick the Right Pumpkin

Pumpkin seeds are a delicious, healthy seasonal snack that can be as creatively flavored any way you want!  The first thing you need to do is pick a pumpkin!

Want to grow your own pumpkins? The Jack-O-Lantern Variety are perfect for eating and carving.

Wandering through a pumpkin patch, it might seem impossible to know which pumpkin would be good for carving and roasting seeds. Lucky for you, the easy part is figuring out which ones are chock full of seeds. Just pick it up! The heavier the pumpkin, the more likely it is to be full of seeds.

If you need help picking out a perfect pumpkin for carving, check out this guide.

Harvest the Seeds

This is the fun part! Once you cut the top of your jack-o-lantern off, it’s time to get your hands dirty.

Set up two bowls. Scoop out as much of the guts and seeds as you can with your hands. Separate as many of the seeds from the pulp as you can and put them in one bowl. It’s okay if they are still slimy and still have a little pulp on them, you’ll clean that off later.

As you get near the end, use a large metal spoon to scrape down the inside walls of the pumpkin to clean out any remaining strands and straggling seeds. Wash up and finish carving your pumpkins!

If you need ideas or templates for carving, here are all you could ask for!

Prepare the Seeds

Place the seeds in a colander and rinse the seeds under cold, running water. Use your hands to remove any pulp still attached. Once clean, remove them and set aside

Here are four other great pumpkin craft ideas.

Boil the Seeds

Depending on how many seeds you have, fill a sauce pan or pot with water and salt it until it tastes like the sea. Bring to a boil and add the cleaned seeds.

Boil for 5-8 minutes until the seeds begin to look translucent. Remove the seeds to a baking sheet and pat them dry.

The boiling gives the seeds a pleasant salty flavor throughout and ensures that they cook evenly and without burning in the oven.

Roast ‘Em

Pre-heat the oven to 400-425 (this isn’t an exact science) and add the seeds. Roast until golden, crispy and delicious (about 10-15 minutes).

Remove them from the oven and add them immediately to a clean mixing bowl for seasoning.

Check out these incredibly delicious pumpkin recipes while you’re at it!

Season ‘Em

This is the fun part. No matter what seasoning you go with, you’ll probably want to use 1 tbsp of high-quality olive oil and some course kosher salt as a base. The oil helps the seasoning stick to the seeds and the salt helps elevate the other flavors.

Now, you can keep them simple and enjoy these classic fall snacks! If you are feeling a little wild, here are some other delicious flavoring suggestions.

The amount of seasoning will depend on how many seeds and what size you have, so start with a little and keep adding until it is just perfect

  • Sugar and Cinnamon: I like a mixture of 4 to 1 white sugar to cinnamon (here is more information if you are curious). If you want it a little hotter, add more cinnamon to the mixture
  • Curry: Any pre-made curry powder will work here, but you can make your own if you are feeling ambitious. I like this Thai Curry Powder
  • South of the Border: Use a 1:1 cumin to red chili flake mix. If you like it really spicy, add some cayenne powder.
  • Spicy and Savory: Use a 2:2:1 garlic salt (omit the kosher salt above if using this or just use garlic powder), lemon pepper, and cayenne to create a savory and hot mix.
 

FALL IN LOVE WITH PUMPKINS

By Engrid Winslow

Halloween scarecrow with pumpkins at his feet.

A happy Scarecrow with BBB Seed Pumpkins…Fall is in the air!

Yep, we can tell we are here in fall because THE place to be on the weekends is in the pumpkin patch! Here are a few of my favorite pumpkin recipes and a link to one for our furry companions who love to romp in falling leaves and go on walks with us in the crisp fall air!

This recipe makes a delicious combination of fall flavors into a creamy “butter” (which contains zero butter and is very low in sugar) which is delicious on toast, biscuits, and scones or packaged into a gift basket for friends and neighbors during the Holiday Season. The best pumpkins for making a butter or pie are the small sweet ones like Sugar Pie or Cinderella.

PUMPKIN APPLE BUTTER

Makes about 4 ½ cups but can be doubled or tripled if you want more to share with friends and family

2 cups unsweetened applesauce (canned or homemade)

2 cups pureed pumpkin (canned or homemade – not pumpkin pie filling)

¼ cup apple cider

1/3 cup light brown sugar

3 TBL honey

1 tsp apple cider vinegar

¾ tsp ground cinnamon

½ tsp ground ginger

½ tsp sea salt

½ tsp grated fresh nutmeg

Heavy pinch of ground cloves

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring often to make sure that sauce doesn’t scorch and sides of saucepan stay clean until mixture is reduced by at least one third. It should also darken in color to a caramel brown with an orange tinge. Process using water bath canning, which will keep for about 6 months [www.freshpreserving.com/canning-101-getting-started.html] or place in refrigerator to use within 2 months or freeze for up to 12 months.

 

PUMPKIN BOLOGNESE

Serves at least 4

When you replace tomato with pumpkin you create a delicious and meltingly mellow version of traditional Italian Bolognese. Use lots of black pepper to temper the richness of this sauce.

2 lbs pumpkin, unpeeled and cut into large wedges with seeds scraped out

Brush the pumpkins with olive oil and place on a foil lined sheet pan to roast at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes.  Let cool and then scrape flesh into a food processor and puree until smooth. Transfer to a saucepan and cook down at medium heat, stirring often until pumpkin has reduced and is the thickness of tomato paste. This step will take about 20 minutes.

In a large Dutch oven heat 3 Tbl olive oil and add ½ lb ground pork and 1 lb ground beef over medium-high heat. Stir and break up chinks so that the meat is no longer pink. Just lightly brown it – we don’t want a crust on the meat. Remove and set aside. Add 1 cup finely chopped carrot, ½ cup finely chopped celery and 1/2 cup finely chopped onion to Dutch oven and season with 1 tsp salt and lots of fresh ground pepper. When the vegetables start to look like they are browning, reduce the heat to medium-low but keep cooking, stirring until they are fragrant and softened but not browned – about 10 more minutes.

Return meat to the pan and add 1 cup dry white wine and simmer until wine is reduced and almost completely gone – about 10 minutes. Fold in the pumpkin puree and 1 cup milk. Add more salt and pepper to taste and reduce heat to a low simmer for 45 minutes to one hour.

Serve with cooked Tagliatelle pasta and grated Parmigiano Romano

 

And here’s a link to some amazing dog treats that my dogs have been enjoying for years:

positively.com/contributors/pumpkin-banana-dog-treats-grain-and-dairy-free

Giant pumpkins in an orchard.

BBB Seed BIG Max pumpkins!

 

8 Edible Flowers to Spice Up Your Next Meal

Sign for edible flowers.

by Sam Doll

What could be more special than having a garden full of beautiful blossoms?

How about a plate full of them too! Here are our 8 favorite edible blossoms.

  1. Borage

Borage, or Starflower, is a delightful herb that has been in use since ancient Greece. The blossoms and leaves are both edible and have a pleasant, cucumber-like flavor.

The flowers are great in salads, soups, sandwiches, and drinks! We love using borage blossoms in a classic Pimm’s Cup cocktail or just infused in water with lemon!

  1. Lavender

This classic, sweet-scented bloom is excellent in sweet and savory dishes. When roasting meats, replace rosemary with lavener to give your dish a slight floral aroma. You can also add it to any desert to create an elegant twist on classic dishes. Try this Lemon-Lavender Pound Cake or use it in jam to create layers of flavors!

Unless you are using it as a garnish, we recommend you transform it by either infusing it into a liquid, like syrup, or grinding it into a sugar mixture so your food doesn’t have an unpleasant texture from the fibrous elements of the plant

Make sure you are using English Lavender. French and ornamental lavenders can have unpleasant flavors and higher levels or camphor, which can make you sick in large quantities. Also, unless you are growing it yourself, make sure it is labeled as “culinary lavender” to make sure there are no unwanted additives or toxins.

  1. Squash Blossoms

These classic summer treats can be enjoyed into early fall, depending on how well your squash are doing. Tender and delicate, these beautiful orange blossoms taste mildly like the squash they will produce.

If you are growing them yourself, make sure to only harvest the male blossoms, so you can leave all the female blossoms to grow into squash.

Here is a great guide on how to tell the difference between male and female squash blossoms.

These blossoms are great stuffed, fried, or atop pizza and frittatas!

  1. Sage

Much more delicate than the leafy parts of the plant, sage blossoms can add a light, savory element to your dish. Usually too delicate to hold up to much cooking, sage blossoms do best when used raw. Garnish your dish with them or use them in a sage blossom pesto to highlight their flavor

  1. Chives

Like most alliums (onions, garlic, leeks, etc.), chive blossoms can add an intense oniony flavor to any dish. While they can be used the same as the green parts of the chive plant, we love to infuse them into rice vinegar to create a beautiful, pink onion vinegar!

  1. Rose

Rose petals are a classic way to add beauty and floral elements to a dish. Unlike a lot of blossoms, rose can hold up to strong flavors like cinnamon, coriander, and turmeric as well as more clean flavors like apple and cucumber. We love using rose petals to make the classic Indian beverage, Rose Milk.

 

  1. Bee Balm (Monarda)

This wildflower is member of the mint family native to North America. The leaves and petals are both edible and have a flavor that is a mix between peppermint, sage, and oregano.

The leaves can be dried and used to make an herbal tea that tastes similar to Earl Grey or the leaves and petals can be used fresh in a salad to add a bright, fresh element

  1. Calendula, AKA Pot Marigold

These beautiful, yellow blooms are excellent fresh and can range in flavor from peppery, tangy, bitter, and spicy. Most closely resembling the flavor of saffron, the petals can be used fresh to add a bit of life to any dish. The petals can also add a bright flavor to soup, eggs, and spreads.

 

 

Give Winter Squash Some Love

by Engrid WinslowPhoto of two golden butternut squash.

Now that the nip of fall is finally in the air it is time to celebrate the coming harvest of winter squash.  Winter squashes include the beloved Butternut as well as Sweet Dumpling, Delicata, Spaghetti, Hubbard, Long Island Cheese, Pumpkins and so many more varieties. The squash should be harvested before the first hard freeze but a light frost will actually sweeten the sugars in the squash fruit. The stems should be fairly dry and the fruit unblemished. If there are any squishy spots, just eat those right away but the others can be stored for up to six months.  The fruit should feel heavy and dense and your fingernail should not pierce the flesh when pressed against it. Cut the squash from the vine so that there is at least a 2” stem and then let them cure at room temperature for a week or two.  After they have cured they should be stored in a cool dry place such as a basement or garage where they will not freeze.

 

Winter Squashes are rich in fiber and vitamins and low in calories but they are also so hearty that they are great for meatless meals.  To my mind, the best way to eat most of them is roasted with olive oil, salt and pepper but let’s not forget pies and casseroles with warm winter spices like cinnamon and nutmeg.  The seeds can also be roasted for a delicious and nutritious snack.

 

Many years ago this recipe for Butternut Squash Risotto in Cooks Illustrated  Italian Favorites that I have tweaked and played with to come up with one of my most beloved recipes.  It gets the center starring role at least once a month during the winter season for its comforting warmth. It seems like a lot of work but this is one that is worth every minute.

 

 

BUTTERNUT SQUASH RISOTTO

                Serves 4-6

 

Adapted from Cooks Illustrated Italian Favorites 2009

 

 

2 TBL olive oil

6 TBL butter

2 LB butternut squash, peeled, de-seeded and cut into ½” cubes which should yield 3-4 cups

  NOTE: Reserve seeds, fibers, peels and any extra bits of squash for use later

4 cups chicken stock

1 cup water

1-2 small onions, minced

2 cups Arborio (Carnaroli can be substituted)

1 ½ cups white wine such as Pinot Grigio that you will also drink with your dinner

1 cup grated Parmesano-Reggiano

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 TBL minced fresh sage leaves

¼ tsp grated nutmeg

Salt and pepper to taste

 

In a large non-stick skillet, sauté the squash over medium-high heat with olive oil until cubes are nicely browned.  Season with salt and pepper, remove from pan and set aside.  Add reserved squash peels, seeds, etc. to pan and cook, stirring to break up the fibers as much as possible until brown.  Place chicken stock and water in a saucepan with reserved, cooked bits of squash, bring to a low boil and reduce heat to a bare simmer.

Place 4 tablespoons of butter in the empty skillet over medium heat and let melt before adding onion, garlic and additional salt and pepper. Cook and stir often until onions are softened.  Add rice and stir until grains are a bit translucent around the edges (about 3-4 minutes).  Add white wine and cook, stirring until it is fully absorbed.  Add 3 cups of liquid (avoiding stems and other bits – Strain if desired but press the solids to get as much flavor from them as possible) and a half of the cubed squash to the pan. After the liquid is completely absorbed and the pan is nearly dry, continue adding liquid about 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly until liquid is absorbed before adding another ½ cup. Taste the rice for al dente and then stir in the rest of the squash, sage, nutmeg, parmesan and remaining 2 tablespoons of butter.  Add additional liquid if you prefer a looser risotto and sprinkle additional parmesan on the top.  Serve with the same white wine you used to cook your risotto.

 

You can add other things such as spinach, sweet peas and cooked chicken to this recipe if desired.

 

Two Sweet And Savory Uses For Green Tomatoes

 

A cluster of small green tomatoes on the stem.

photo courtesy of pixabay-HBH-MEDIA-photography

By Engrid Winslow

Summer is starting to wind down and perhaps you want to do something with all of those green tomatoes. Here are two interesting and delicious recipes for you to try. Green tomatoes are high in Vitamins A & C, full of potassium and a good source of fiber.

 

Green Tomato Chutney

Yields 5 1/2 cups

2 lbs green tomatoes                                     ½ tsp mustard seeds

½ lb cooking apples                                         ½ tsp cayenne pepper

1 lb red onion                                                    1 Tbl finely grated fresh ginger

¼ cup packed brown sugar                          1 ¼ cups raisins

2 ½ cups malt vinegar                                     3 green chiles, deseeded and minced

1 tsp salt

Put tomatoes in a large bowl and cover with boiling water. Let steep until peels can be easily removed then chop roughly.

Place all ingredients in a non-reactive pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the chutney is thick, stirring occasionally.

Can be refrigerated or water bath canned.

 

Green Tomato Jam     Bowl of small shiny green tomatoes and 1 red one.      

Yields 2 cups

1 lemon, zested and juiced

1 lb green tomatoes, finely chopped

1 ¾ cup sugar

1 one inch diameter ginger, peeled and finely sliced or chopped

Place the tomatoes, lemon juice and sugar in a bowl and let macerate overnight. The next day, pour the mixture into a non-reactive pot along with the zest. Stir over low heat until sugar has dissolved, then turn up the heat and bring to a rapid boil for one minute.  Add ginger, stir well and skim if necessary.

Can be refrigerated or water bath canned.

 

HIVE HAPPENINGS IN SEPTEMBER

Two beekeepers in bee suits inspecting a hive.

photo courtesy of pixabay – topp-digital-foto

By Engrid Winslow

Have you ever wondered what beekeepers actually do? Did you think that they just put hives in fields and then visit to collect honey every once in a while? Well, we are going to take you inside the duties of a beekeeper in the first of a series of articles explaining what the bees are up to and how a beekeeper helps them to survive and thrive.

Two jars of golden honey with a honey dipper.

photo courtesy of pixabay – fancycrave1

Honeybees are the only bees that overwinter as a colony and cold weather can be stressful enough that many colonies will not survive without some help from a beekeeper. Even with that help, a hive that is weak or doesn’t have enough food stored or suffers from a mite infestation will not make it through.  Each colony has worked very hard all spring and summer collecting honey and pollen to feed the new brood that the queen spends all day (and night!) laying. They are also storing extra honey and pollen to make it through the winter when there is very little forage (in most parts of the country).  Every colony needs 60-90 pounds of honey to survive the cold season. A responsible beekeeper only harvests whatever extra honey has been stored by the hive. Beekeepers watch their hives grow during the season and add “honey supers” on top of a two-deep hive colony with a “queen excluder” between the hive and the supers. Some hives will produce many of these supers that hold the excess honey – it varies by the colony and by the amount of forage available during the season. The excluder ensures that no brood is laid in the supers. In the early fall, beekeepers check to make sure that the honey stores are capped with wax and proceed to harvest the honey in a variety of ways ranging from using a “capping scratcher” with the frames set over a bucket to using electric or manual extracting machines.

Honey is a marvelous thing to have for personal use, to sell or to give to friends and family as gifts. The National Honey Board website has numerous recipes for all types of dishes using honey as an ingredient.  Check them out at National Honey Board.

There are many other duties for the beekeeper to take care of as the weather cools and, concurrently, the hive is also preparing itself for winter. The queen slows down her egg laying, drones are evicted from the hive and the colony shrinks to a size that can huddle together when it’s cold outside. I’ll share more of this information in my next blog about honeybees.

 

How To Can Fruit: A Beginners Guide

Poster for A beginners Guide to Canning Fruit.

by Sam Doll

 

Summer is the perfect time to enjoy fresh, local fruit. Whether it’s plump, Maine blueberries or sweet, Colorado peaches, every part of the country is offering up a local bounty of great unique fruits.

The only problem is that it is hard to make these harvests last! Maybe want to save a local treat for winter or you just have more than you know what to do with? Well, the best way to preserve your local fruit harvest is to can them!

Here is our beginners guide to canning fruit at home.

*Important Note*

Whenever you are canning, make sure to strictly follow a tested recipe from a trusted source. Canning is safe when done properly, but improperly canned food can harbor dangerous pathogens.

We recommend recipes from the following sources:

The National Center for Home Food Preservation

Ball/Kerr Food Preservation

Or your local extension office!

Also, if you are above 1,000 ft, make sure to adjust the processing time on your recipe for altitude!

Equipment

Water-Bath Canning Kit

Most fruits are naturally acidic foods, which means you should be able to process your canned fruit using a water-bath canning kit. For non-acidic foods, you will need to use a pressure canner, which can heat foods to higher temperatures than water-bath canners can.

*Processing is just the step of heating the jars for a certain period to kill off all dangerous bacteria.

A canning kit usually consists of the following

  • A large metal pot with a lid
  • A rack to keep the jars off the bottom of the pot and for lifting jars in and out of the bath.
  • A magnetic wand for retrieving lids and rings
  • A jar lifter
  • A canning funnel
  • A paddle to check fluid height and for removing bubbles

We recommend the Ball Enamel Water Bath Canning Kit

If you don’t want to use a kit, you can always assemble a makeshift water-bath canner out of your normal kitchenware. Just make sure that there is enough headspace to cover the jars with at least an inch of water and that you can place some sort of rack in the bottom of it to prevent the jars from touching and breaking from the direct heat.

Canning Jars and Lids

Photo of many canning jars.

photo courtesy of Pixabay – Lolame

Equally important as the water-bath canner, having the proper containers is essential for successful home canning.

Make sure you are using clean, canning grade jars designed for home canning. These mason jars are sturdier and safer than commercial glass jars and their availability makes them easy to replace and get lids for.

While the lid rings can be reused, make sure only to use new canning lids when preserving food. Old lids will not seal properly and can lead to improperly processed food.

Choosing and Preparing your Fruit

As always, the best ingredients make the best, finished product. This is especially true when trying to preserve fruit. Fruit needs to be fresh and sturdy to keep their color and shape throughout the canning process.

Fresh, firm fruits will do best for canning. Don’t wait until the fruit is at peak ripeness, because the heat from the processing will soften them. If they are too soft to start with, your end product will be mushy.

Thoroughly and gently wash your fruit to remove any dirt and debris. Bacteria can hide and survive in dirt, so do your best to make sure that all your fruit is cleaned.

If you want to preserve your fruit peeled, you can either use a vegetable peeler for hardier fruits, like apples, or you can use the blanching method for stone fruit like peaches or even tomatoes.

Here is a handy guide for blanching and peeling stone fruit.

Canning Liquids

For the canning process to actually work its magic and properly preserve your food, there needs to be a liquid that can transfer the heat from the bath and sides of your jars to the food. There are a variety of different liquids that you can pack your fruit in: water, juices, and syrups are most common.

Water and juices are useful for hardier fruits that don’t need much to preserve the shape, color, and texture of the fruit. Apples, pears, and peaches can all be packed in water.

Syrups are more common and are a great way to preserve the fruits shape, color, and flavor. You can pack all fruit in syrups from very light to very heavy. However, heavier syrups are better for fruits that are tart or sour, while very light syrups do well for naturally very sweet fruits.

For specific syrup ratios and fruit recommendations, check out this guide by NCHFP

Packing

Packing is the step right before processing your fruit. Packing is, very simply, how you package your fruit into the jars.

Hot Packing

Hot packing is the more preferred method to pack your fruits when water-bath canning. It often involves heating the fruit to a boil in the packing liquid and then packing them into the clean jars before processing.

Some very juicy fruits can be heated without packing liquid to cook out their juices, and then packed into the jars with that fluid.

Since hot packed fruit have already been cooked, you do not have to worry about them shrinking during processing.

Cold or Raw Packing

Cold packing is when you tightly pack cold fruit into the jars and then pour the hot packing liquid over them before processing. This is not as recommended as hot packing since the fruit will shrink and release fluid during processing and it is not the most efficient use of jar space.

Processing

  1. After packing your jars, use a plastic spatula or paddle to remove any bubbles trapped in the fruit by sliding it down the sides of the jar. Check your headspace and, if necessary, add more packing fluid (headspace is dependent on the type of jar you have).
  2. Wipe the rim with a damp cloth to remove any debris or residue and ensure a clean seal.
  3. Gently screw on a new, clean lid and rim until it is finger tight. Do not over tighten!
  4. Bring the water bath to a simmer (~180° F) for hot packing or ~140° F for cold packing.
  5. Keeping the jars straight up and down, lift the jars and slowly lower them into the bath. A jar lifter can be helpful here, so you don’t burn yourself.
  6. Make sure there is at least an inch of water above the lids. If not, heat water to a boil and fill the bath to the proper level before moving on.
  7. Bring the bath to a full boil. Once the bath has reached a rolling boil, place the lid on the bath and start the processing timer according to your recipe.
  8. Once the timer has finished, remove the lid and turn the heat off. Wait 5 minutes before removing jars.
  9. Remove jars and place them on a towel or rack. Make sure to keep them upright. Wait for 12 to 24 hours before checking if the jars sealed properly. Do not touch the lids!
  10. After letting them sit, check the seal by pushing down lightly on the center of the lid. If it is firm and doesn’t move or “pop”, they should be ready to be cleaned and labeled.
 

Preserving Herbs in Vinegar

Infusing vinegars with herbs.

photo courtesy of Anelka / pixabay

By Heather Stone

Last week we talked about drying as an easy way to preserve your herb harvest. This week we are going to dive into infusing herbs in vinegar. There is lots of room for creativity when making infused vinegars. You can infuse single herbs, a combination of herbs, herbs with flowers and don’t forget fruit. The possibilities are endless.

The end product can be used in a number of ways including; salad dressings, marinades, rubs, sauces, beverages and more. Beautifully bottled vinegars also make great gifts.

 

  • First, you will need to choose your vinegar. There are many varieties of vinegar including white, apple cider, rice, champagne and wine vinegars. Milder tasting vinegars are well suited for delicate herbs and flowers. Your more robust herbs do best in wine vinegar. Really it’s up to you and what you like best.

 

 

  • Wash and gently pat dry your herbs. Make sure you are using the best quality leaves and flowers, leaving behind those that are bruised, brown or have been nibbled on.

 

  • Place three to four sprigs of fresh herbs or 3-4 tablespoons of dried herbs per pint of vinegar.

 

  • Cover your container tightly with a non-metallic lid and place it in a cool, dark place to infuse. Allow it to steep for 2-4 weeks, giving it an occasional shake.

 

  • Once your vinegar has reached your desired flavor, remove the herbs and place the vinegar into a sterilized jar or bottle. Don’t forget to label and date your vinegars! Stored in a cool, dark place your vinegar should last 4-5 months. Refrigerate for longer storage.

 

Chives with pink blossoms.

Photo courtesy of TanteTati / pixabay

Some of my favorites include:

A bottle of taragon infused vivegar.

Photo courtesy of mammela / pixabay

French tarragon in apple cider vinegar

Chive blossoms in rice vinegar- the beautiful blossoms turn the vinegar a beautiful shade of pink

Violets in white wine vinegar- this vinegar turns an amazing shade of purple

Raspberries in cider vinegar

Parsley, thyme and sage in red wine vinegar

 

Check out these links for more ideas for flavor combinations.

https://theherbalacademy.com/making-herbal-vinegars/

http://www.frontiercoop.com/community/how-to/herbal-vinegars

https://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/uga/uga_flavored_vinegars.pdf

 

 

5 TIPS FOR TAKING YOUR JAM FROM GOOD TO GREAT

By Engrid WinslowThree jars of great jams.

 

If you are questioning whether making your own jams and preserves is worth the effort the answer would be absolutely “YES!!!!!”  If you’ve never made your own jam before check out the tutorials and instructions on these two websites:

https://www.freshpreserving.com/canning-101-getting-started.html

http://foodinjars.com/canning-101-archive/

 

 

Here are some ways that you can boost the flavors of your jams to heights that are extraordinary:

A box of 'Sure Jell" Pectin for making great jams. Pectin for making great jams.

 

  • Mix more than one fruit together! Peaches and raspberries make a great couple not to mention the classic old-fashioned strawberry & rhubarb.  Try other mixtures too and be surprised by the flavor profiles you can create.
  • Add a surprise element. Consider adding herbs or spices to your jams like strawberry with basil, apricot with rosemary, lavender and peach, pear with vanilla bean, cherry and jalapeno, pear butter with ginger,  or even lemon zest and juice to your blueberries, strawberries or blackberries to make Blueberry Lemonade, etc.  Or make limeade with lime zest and juice
  • Speaking of additions, some recipes call for lemon juice and some don’t but you will find that adding lemon juice and a bit of salt really brighten and intensify the flavors.
  • Check out some amazing books for even more great ideas.

 

Front cover of the book, "Blue Ribbon Canning". Front cover of the book, "Naturally Sweet Food in Jars". Front cover of the book, "Food In Jars".

 

 

 

 

So now you are all set and can get creative and make delicious preserves and jams to give to family, neighbors and friends.  Homemade jam and a package of scone mix is also a great hostess gift.  Share your ideas and creations with us here.