Ask the Goats is a semi-regular Monday feature in which we attempt to answer your questions about growing, making, eating, and preserving food. Got a question for the goats? Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q. Can tangerine marmalade be made with Stevia and/or Splenda for people like me who have diabetes?—Deborah
A. You can absolutely make a fruit spread from Stevia, Splenda, or other sugar substitutes. You can also go sugar free. If you want a consistency that in any way resembles a traditional jam or marmalade, however, you’ll need to add some form of pectin. Sugar is essential to the gelling process, so when you reduce or eliminate it, you have to add some other means of structural support. Although I haven’t had much experience with it myself, many low-sugar canners swear by Pomona’s Pectin. Laura at Squirrel it Away! recently posted an extremely helpful piece about her experiences converting her high-sugar recipes to low-sugar jams with the help of Pomona’s Pectin. (Note, though, that hers still include 1/2 c. of honey, which may be too much for you.)
Depending on what sort of artificial sweetener you’d like to use, you’ll probably need to experiment to locate just the right amount. You should also be aware that some artificial sweeteners (I don’t have enough experience with them to know which ones) produce an off-flavor when heated, so you’ll probably want to add your sweetener at the last possible minute before transferring the marmalade to the jars. For ideas, a good place to start would be Norma McRae’s Canning and Preserving Without Sugar.
Finally, remember that sugar is a preservative. While it’s safe to can reduced-sugar or sugar-free fruit products, be aware that they won’t last as long as traditional jams once you open them. You should plan on eating the contents of your jars within a week or two. If you can’t finish them that quickly, you might want to consider smaller jars.
Good luck, and please report back on your results!
It’s true. I’ve slipped down the slippery slope of food preservation: meat. With the encouragement of Mrs. Wheelbarrow and The Yummy Mummy, I’ve thrown my hat in for a year of charcuterie. It helps that it’s my kind of challenge: you can participate, or not, as the mood strikes. And since I always have a hankering for expensive cured meat products, this first challenge—duck prosciutto—seemed right up my alley.
Which is not to say that my first attempt turned out perfectly. The duck came out a hair too salty; I think I left it to hang too long; and it’s really, really fatty. Nevertheless, I think I’m hooked. Making duck prosciutto (and presumably lots of other preserved meat products) is really as simple as dousing a duck breast in salt overnight, then letting it hang for a week. When you touch it, your hands come away smelling like high-end tapas. While duck breasts are hardly cheap (I paid $12.95/pound for fresh ones at Reading Terminal), duck prosciutto isn’t exactly something you can find in just any neighborhood deli. I like the idea of making it myself, using duck from a butcher I trust. I especially like the idea of controlling what goes in the cure mix. (No nitrates for me, thanks.)
Since everyone participating in charcutepalooza is playing along from Michael Ruhlman’s Charcuterie, I’ll spare you the “recipe” (such as it is). I thought that, instead, you might want an explanation. I certainly did. How does this work, exactly? When people say salt acts as a preservative, exactly how does it do that?
Well. It turns out that salt curing works on a basic chemical principle. Systems seek equilibrium. The first step in most salt cures, including this one, is to submerge your meat in salt. If the font size in the diagram below represents concentration, and the dotted line represents the boundary between the meat and salt (on one level, skin; on another, cell membranes), the system might look something like this:
If the system had its druthers, all the different things in the system would distribute themselves equally, both inside and out of the meat. But, because of the boundary membranes, they can’t. Proteins, fats, and some bacteria are stuck inside, while water, salt, and other ions (potassium, calcium, etc.) have no trouble passing through. After about a day, your system might look something like this:
This is exactly what happens to a duck breast that’s been sitting in salt all night. Here’s mine, after its evening in brine:
Notice how flat it is? If you could touch it, you’d see that it’s already quite hard. It’s absorbed quite a bit of the salt from the outside, and eliminated some of its water. Although it seems counterintuitive, this is actually a kind of dehydration. The resulting combination of high salt levels and low water levels makes it difficult for dangerous bacteria to survive—making it safe for you to hang your meat for a week to develop further flavor.
Now, keep in mind that you can’t hang your duck breast just anywhere because the meat still contains other kinds of bacteria that you don’t want to encourage. Nor do you want random yeast taking hold. You want a spot between 50 and 60°F, and you need to wrap it up in something to keep it clean. I wrapped mine in muslin and hung them from the basement rafters:
And after a week, I had duck prosciutto. It’s like magic, except it’s not. It’s osmosis and dehydration. And even though it’s not perfect, it’s still pretty delicious.
Ask the Goatsis a semi-regular Monday feature in which we, the goats, attempt to answer your questions about growing, making, eating, and preserving food (though you probably don’t need much help with the eating). Send your questions to email@example.com.
Q. Is it really necessary to sterilize the jars for jams? I’ve been making marmalade for many years, and I figure that since the marmalade is almost boiling hot when it goes into the jars, that should do the job. At least, I’ve never had any go bad in the jar.—Ed
A. Weeeeeeeel. It depends. If you’re doing everything else by the book—using a sugar to fruit ratio of at least 1:1, processing your jars for 10 minutes, heating up the lids—it’s highly unlikely that you would have any problems with mold or yeast formation in marmalade unsterilized jars. But those are a lot of ifs.
There are only so many corners that you can cut when canning fruit preserves. You want to reduce the sugar? Fine, but be sure to process the jars for at least 10 minutes. You want to thumb your nose at the USDA and skip processing altogether, like the French? OK, but be sure to use a full 1:1 sugar ratio and sterilized, piping hot jars—and don’t expect the jars to last forever.
The short answer is that you need not sterilize your jars if your processing time is longer than 10 minutes (see the Ball Company’s helpful FAQ for more information). The longer answer is that I often sterilize my jars, both out of habit and because hot jars are less likely than cold jars to break when placed in a boiling water bath. There’s no harm in it, and it doesn’t require any extra energy since you have to boil the water anyway. More importantly, it helps solidify your canning routine so that you’ll automatically remember to sterilize your jars when you really need to.
Long story short: it’s good practice, and harmless, but probably not strictly necessary so long as you’re processing for 10 minutes or more.
I have been blessed with a freezer full of sustainably harvested salmon. Unlike my venison, I’ve had to pay for it, but I couldn’t ask for better quality than the stuff that’s been arriving in our CSS (community supported seafood) subscription through Otolith. Being a Midwesterner, it’s taken me several months to get the hang of cooking fish. Even so, at some point in December, I decided I was ready for a new challenge: home-cured salmon.
Hence began my rapid descent into Mrs. Wheelbarrow and the Yummy Mummy‘s Charcuterie Challenge. It turns out that curing gravlax is just as easy as Mark Bittman says it is, and hot-smoking salmon isn’t much more difficult. It’s not something that you can rush, but if you have access to salt, sugar, a refrigerator, some rice or twigs, aluminum foil, and a wok, you can do this. Really you can. And, so I’ve been promised, if you can cure salmon, you can make charcuterie. We’ll see about that, but so far, so good.
1) Mix somewhere between a 1:1 and 3:2 ratio of salt and sugar.
2) Spread this all over a filet of salmon. Throw on some herbs or spices or even smoked tea, then wrap this whole thing up in plastic wrap. Transfer it to a container.
3) Place a weight on top of the fish and refrigerate for somewhere between 12 to 30 hours.
AND THAT’S IT. There’s debate online about whether the weight is really necessary; whether you should let the salmon sit at room temperature awhile before refrigerating it; whether you need Aquavit; whether you can really do it with one piece of salmon, or whether it requires two; but in all cases the basic idea is salt + sugar + salmon + time = gravlax.
I took two pieces of salmon, cut them each in half, and made two different versions. I used about 60% salt and 40% sugar (a combo of raw and regular) and skipped the counter time. One batch had cracked peppercorns; the other had lapsang souchong tea, in an attempt to achieve smokiness. Then, I took half of each batch and smoked it. Yes, really. Here’s the result of my 2 X 2 experiment:
From left to right, that’s the peppercorn gravlax, the lapsang souchong gravlax, smoked peppercorn, and smoked lapsang souchong. Technically, the gravlax is considered raw, while the smoked is considered cooked. Personally, I preferred the peppercorn gravlax, but all were very good.
Now, how do you smoke salmon without a fancy smoker? You rig up a wok, of course. Or, if you’re Alton Brown, you rig up a hot plate, a cardboard box, some sawdust, and a fan. Just watch:
You can also do this in a wok (though keep in mind that the heat may damage it beyond repair). Line an old wok with aluminum foil. Throw in some twigs or woodchips or sawdust or brown rice. Make some sort of drip pan from either more foil or a metal sheet, then put your fish on top of a rack. It should sit about an inch on top of the wood chips. Line the inside of the lid with more foil, then cover and seal up the edges. The idea is to keep the smoke inside the wok, not in your kitchen. Turn the heat onto high and watch what happens carefully. When you start to smell smoke, the salmon’s cooking. Let it cook for about 12 minutes, monitoring closely for smoke. (You can place a wet kitchen towel alongside the edge of the wok if smoke starts to escape.) When you think it’s done, turn off the heat and carefully carry the entire package outside. Open it up, and you’ll find an amazing home cooking project. The trick, of course, is to not set off the smoke detectors in the process. (Sorry about the lack of photos. I was so concerned about preventing smoke that it completely slipped my mind until it was too late.)
Would I do this again? Totally. I’ve been told that cured and smoked salmon freezes well, so next time I might even do more, just to save myself the effort later. And, of course, I’m now hooked on preserving meat. Stay tuned for duck prosciutto next week!
Ask the Goatsis a semi-regular Monday feature in which we, the goats, attempt to answer your food preservation questions. Got a question? Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q. I would like to can kimchi so that it can be preserved without refrigeration and for longer periods. Is this possible? You have no information on your site.—Robin A.
A. Alas, no. All sources I’ve seen say that while it’s safe to can sauerkraut and fully fermented cucumber pickles, it is not a good idea to can kimchi. Although I have yet to find an extended explanation, there seem to be two separate issues. First, there’s the practical problem that kimchi is generally too fragile to withstand the heat of a water-bath processor. Fresh kimchi is delicious; boiled kimchi, not so much. But putting aside the texture, there’s also the question of acidity. In fully fermented foods, like sauerkraut, the lactic acid produced by the bacteria is strong enough to bring the acidity below a pH of 4.6—the magic number necessary to make a food safe for water-bath canning. The shorter fermentation period in kimchis, however, is usually not strong enough to ensure such a high pH.
There’s one other thing to consider. If you’re eating fermented foods for their health-giving properties, keep in mind that canning will kill the good bacteria along with the bad. Killing bacteria is, after all, the point of water-bath processing.
And finally, yes, you really should refrigerate your kimchi. I just had to throw out a batch that I’d been storing in my 55°F basement. I had hoped that the temperature would be cold enough to inhibit the growth of molds, but such was not the case. The kimchi at the very bottom of the jar was still edible, but the rest of it had an off-taste from mold spores that had dissolved in the brine. Another jar of fully fermented pickled green tomatoes, on the other hand, had been more successful at fending off the molds. Presumably the higher acidity level had something to do with it. Chalk it up to lessons learned.
This is a picture of an elaborate dehydrated apple experiment I conducted back in October. It’s also exactly the kind of geeky post that I know you guys love, and that I mostly didn’t get around to doing this year. It’s got that combo of science (control groups! recordkeeping! cellulose levels!), slight obsessiveness (soooo many apples), and utility (surely you need to know which apples dehydrate best?) that I like to think make this blog distinctive from the other food preservation blogs.
And yet…I found it nearly impossible to write this kind of post this year. Between my terrible photography, short attention span, scholarly book contract, and editorial clients, these kinds of posts mostly feel through the cracks. Instead, perhaps because I got swept up in the excitement of the canning media frenzy this past year, I think I tried to make Doris and Jilly into something it’s not: a trendy canning blog. Which means that I neglected to tell you about my slightly deranged kitchen experiments, like this episode of fermented kale:
It’s sort of smoky, sort of weird, and sort of delicious.
Nor did I ever get around to blogging about my attempts at homemade booze production. The rhubarb liqueur was a smash hit; I have yet to decant the plum liqueur, pictured here alongside its rather terrifying main ingredient, Everclear:
I even neglected the really useful canning posts, like the one I had planned to write for the Canvolution folks on why Ball lids don’t always fit Kerr jars. This time, I blame bad photography. No matter how many different ways I set this up, I couldn’t figure out how to show that the lids just don’t quite fit. You can’t see it here, right?
And I know the question of hollow pickles has been keeping you up at night.
So there you have it. My New Year’s Resolution for Doris and Jilly is to return to our scrappy, kitchen-hack, mad-scientist roots. I can’t promise decent photography, but I can promise a gung-ho attitude and lots of instructions. Let’s face it: we’re not a great recipe blog. Too much of what we do involves taking someone else’s recipe and figuring out how to make it work with what you happen to have lying around in your freezer. A useful service, yes, but not ultimately that interesting. At heart, we’re a how-to blog for people who want to learn how to incorporate food preservation and local produce into their regular routines, whether that means freezing peas in May, stocking up on berries in July, dehydrating apples in October, or making venison stew in January.
After all, no matter how many posts I write on jams and jellies and chutneys, I know (because Google Analytics tells me such things) that what you really want to know is how to freeze beet greens. Or beet tops. Or beet leaves. Or beat leaves. However you spell your food preservation questions, we’ll try to do a better job anticipating them. Look for more Ask the Goats, more discussions of the pros and cons of freezing vs. dehydrating vs. canning, more fermentation, and—just to keep it interesting—our first attempts at charcuterie production. Please feel free to make suggestions in the comments!
And about those dehydrated apples? For eating, you want Macs. For cooking, you want something really hard, like Gravenstein or York.
What ho! Is that a chocolate torte? Why, no! It’s a persimmon pudding, a rare and exquisite dessert rarely seen outside of West Virginia, Kentucky, Southern Indiana, and Southern Illinois. Native persimmons don’t travel well, so you’re unlikely to encounter a persimmon pudding far from where the fruit grows.
OK: Exquisite might be a bit much. But it is my absolute favorite holiday dessert—and if you’re from the Ohio Valley, chances are, it’s yours, too. My story is pretty much the same as everyone else’s. My grandmother made a killer persimmon pudding from trees on her and her neighbors’ property. When she died, I ended up with her persimmon pudding pan, but somehow my pudding never quite turned out right. For several years in a row, I dutifully mixed up persimmon pulp (courtesy of my mother and trees near my folks’ farm), eggs, sugar, and various canned milk products, but instead of persimmon pudding I got persimmon glop. And nasty glop at that.
Enough’s enough, I decided. You can be loyal to a taste memory without being loyal to the recipe. Which is how I ended up at PersimmonPudding.com, a wonderfully earnest site dedicated to—you guessed it—all things persimmon. Never before have I seen almost two dozen persimmon pudding recipes assembled in one place. Most of these are community-cookbook style recipes, heavy on the sugar and evaporated milk. Look carefully at the bottom of the list, though, and you’ll notice an oddity: a recipe from Deborah Madison. Yes, that Deborah Madison, she of Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, right there alongside the Indiana Nut Growers’ Association and “relatives of Grandma Bertha.” Who knows what on earth she’s doing there, but it’s a fine recipe with just your basic ingredients: butter, persimmons, sugar, eggs, vanilla, milk, salt, flour, and baking soda (skip the cinnamon).
But just to make it interesting, I tried cooking this in the pressure cooker instead of either the oven, which was fully occupied with a Hanukkah turkey (don’t ask), or on the stove top (Madison’s recommendation, which I had never heard of). I had read somewhere that you could make steamed puddings and custards in the pressure cooker, and was anxious to give it a try. IT WAS BRILLIANT. Steaming a pudding in the pressure cooker solves many problems. Your pudding is guaranteed to cook evenly; you don’t have to worry about oven tetris; and it’s faster and uses less energy than stovetop cooking. I’m trying to convince my mom to try this this year for Christmas, though it will mean that we’ll have a bowl-shaped pudding instead of the round-pan version that’s traditional in our house. Whether she decides to take this route or not, I’m just thrilled that I have finally made a persimmon pudding worth sharing with my friends.
1/2 cup butter
1 c. native persimmon puree (do not use Asian persimmons—see note)
1 c. sugar
1 t. vanilla
1/2 c. milk
1/2 t. salt
1 c. flour
2 t. baking soda
1) First, confirm that you’re working with native persimmon pulp. Chances are, it will be frozen, but it will look something like this:
2) Melt the butter. Take some of it and very generously grease the insides of a pudding mold or bowl. I used a Bundt pan, but any heat-proof bowl that fits inside a pressure cooker will work:
3) Mix the wet ingredients in one bowl and the dry ingredients in another. Gently stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Pour the batter into the bowl or mold.
4) Place a steamer rack inside your pressure cooker, and pour in 2 c. of water. Tightly cover the mold or bowl with foil, and place it on top of the rack, like this:
5) Lock the pressure cooker lid, but don’t apply the pressure regulator. Turn up the heat and let steam escape through the steam vent for 15 minutes. CAREFULLY place the regulator on the vent. If you have an adjustable pressure regulator, use 10 pounds; if not, 15 pounds is fine. Bring to pressure and cook 35 minutes (for 10 pounds) or 15 minutes (15 pounds). When the pressure has dropped of its own accord, remove the lid and foil and test for doneness. A knife inserted in the pudding should come out clean.
6) Invert the pudding onto a serving dish and serve with generous dollops of whipped cream.
A note on ingredients: Don’t fret if you don’t have access to a native persimmon tree. The good folks at persimmonpudding.com have provided a list of markets that sell pulp, including some vendors who do mail order. Some of the recipes at persimmonpudding.com also include adaptations for using Asian persimmons, but I haven’t tried them. If you’ve successfully made one with Asian persimmons, can you please tell us how it turned out?
Amanda Hesser arrived at my house last night wearing a giant fur hat and Chuck Taylors. How can you not love this woman?
She was in town as part of her book tour for The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century, and, through a long sequence of events involving Kate Payne of The Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking and Marisa McClellan from Food in Jars, Marisa and I were hosting a meet-the-author blogger potluck. At my house. Now, the next time someone approaches you about the possibility of hosting a food-related event for a well-known food writer that involves her cooking in your kitchen, think very carefully about your relationship with cleanliness and cat hair. It turns out that my standards go way, way, up in those circumstances—I don’t think I’ve ever spent so much time with vacuum attachments. But eventually, it was time to put the vacuum away, take a deep breath, and wait for the guests to arrive.
And they did! And they brought delicious food, all based on recipes (or receipts, if you prefer the 19th-century spelling) that appeared in the New York Times, including three versions of pimento cheese and two cheese straws. We also had a cheese ball, courtesy of Madame Fromage, and an eye-opening fancy mac-and-cheese with radicchio from No Counterspace. Apparently people really like cheese. I made a venison stew, adapted for the pressure cooker (instructions below). Marisa made a spectacular broiled lemon and spinach salad that I really, really hope she blogs about. The desserts were mighty fine, too. For her demo, Amanda made heavenly hots, a sort of cross between pancakes and cheese latkes.
And there’s even a video, courtesy of the Daily News, for those of you who couldn’t join us:
In short: a good time was had by all. And yes, I’d do it again in a heartbeat, even if it does mean cleaning my house. Also: the book is a gem and would make a great Christmas gift. And I’m not just saying that because Amanda Hesser liked my rhubarb liqueur. Cheers.
Venison Stew with Butternut Squash and Hominy
This recipe appears as “Border Town Hunter’s Stew” on p. 571 of The Essential New York Times Cookbook. The ingredients are the same (though I’m not sure how I feel about that cinnamon stick), but I’ve adapted it for the pressure cooker. You never know what you’re getting with wild venison (in this case, courtesy of Jilly’s husband), so I prefer to cook it in the pressure cooker to ensure tenderness.
3 lbs. venison stew meat, cut into 1″ cubes
Salt and pepper
2 T olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
2 poblano peppers, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cubed
3 T. New Mexico chili powder, or to taste
4 t. dried oregano (or about 1 T fresh)
2 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick (eh. consider it optional)
1 12-oz bottle of dark beer (I used Yuengling Black and Tan)
4 c. chicken broth
Two 15 1/2 oz. cans white hominy, drained and rinsed
1. Season the meat with salt and pepper. Let sit 30 minutes. Meanwhile, chop your vegetables.
2. Pretend that your pressure cooker is a giant skillet and heat up the oil. Sear the meat in batches, removing to a separate bowl when done.
3. You should have some oil left in the pot, but if not, add more. Saute the onions and chiles, with maybe a dash more salt. Add the garlic and saute a few minutes more. Add the chili powder, oregano (if using dried), cinnamon stick, and bay leaves and saute a minute more. Add the beer and scrape up all the tasty bits.
4. Add the meat and the stock to the pot and stir everything together. Put on and lock the lid. Cook at 15 pounds of pressure for 12 minutes. Quick-release the pressure using whatever method is recommended by your manufacturer (I run the pot under cold water). Add the squash. Bring back up to pressure and cook another 3 minutes. Let the pressure drop of its own accord, or, if you’re in a hurry, quick release.
5. The stew will now be quite juicy and need to be reduced. Add in the hominy and bring to a boil (note that at this point you’re using your pressure cooker like a pot again, not a pressure cooker). Boil rapidly for about 20 minutes until it’s quite thick, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching. If using fresh herbs, add just before serving.
Notes: Try to find natural hominy, not the cheap stuff made with lye. I only used one can, and that seemed like plenty. This works very well as a pantry dish: the venison and the peppers came from the freezer; the squash and onions from the root cellar; and the oregano from the front yard. I also used ground dehydrated peppers instead of commercial chili powder.
It’s finally time for me to start explaining what on earth I’ve done and/or plan to do with all that food I squirreled away in the basement this summer. The immediate project is to make room in our freezer for some incoming fish and, hopefully (please, Jilly, please?), venison. First order of business? Using up some of the pesto. Pesto freezes beautifully in jelly jars, but jars are freezer hogs. And, um, I need some of those jars for holiday gifts.
So, what to do with it? Put it on pasta, obviously. But it also makes an excellent sandwich spread (particularly with cheese and roasted peppers, also from the freezer), a nice garnish for soup, and a reliable companion for cheese. Pretty much anything you use fresh pesto for, you can use frozen pesto for. Just be sure to check your label to see whether you need to add cheese and nuts.
One last thing, and then on to one of my favorite ways to eat it: don’t be alarmed if the top of the jar has a thin layer or black, or at least darkened, basil. This is a normal effect of oxidation. Depending on how much oil you used, it might not happen at first, but it will if you only use, say, half the jar. It doesn’t affect the taste too much, but if it bothers you, just scrape it off.
On to business!
Pasta with Pesto and Squash
4 oz. frozen pesto, thawed
1 medium butternut squash
1 T. olive oil
3/4 lb. penne (I like wheat, but whatever floats your boat)
Pecorino Romano or other hard cheese for serving
1. Preheat the oven to 425°. Trim and peel the squash; cut into 3/4″ cubes. Toss the cubes with the oil and a bit of salt and roast for about 25 minutes. You want them chewable and maybe just a touch carmelized, but not burnt. (Throw in some garlic if you want).
2. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to boil. When the squash has about 10 minutes to go, start the pasta. Cook until al dente. Drain, reserving about 1/4 c. of pasta water, and return both to the pot.
3. Toss the pasta, the pasta water, the pesto, and the squash. Add more salt and oil if necessary. Serve and top with grated cheese.
Notes: This assumes that you froze your pasta con cheese and nuts. If not, you need to add them. To see this as an opportunity, rather than an annoyance, try varying the cheese. This is particularly nice with goat cheese.
This has to be the coolest thing I’ve ever found growing in my basement. Fermented things, as you probably already know, require a lot of salt. To make sauerkraut, for instance, you mix approximately 4 1/2 T of kosher salt per 5 pounds of cabbage, stuff everything into a jar, and weight it until the cabbage is submerged in its own brine. Weight 3 to 6 weeks, and you’ve got sauerkraut.
Sometimes, fermentation gets messy. Your jars leak and leave little salty puddles on the floor. And because the basement gods were smiling, I got crystals instead of scum and mold. And although I do know that there’s a perfectly reasonable scientific explanation, I’m happy to chalk this one up to magic.