Canning Time is Here!

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The garden is producing and we have had some marvelous harvests this week.  The salsa garden gave us some huge tomatoes, jalapenos, onions and peppers.  We have had lots of green beans, egg plant, cucumbers and I think the cherry tomatoes exploded!  We have literally hundreds.

The strawberries, blueberries, apples, pears and plums have not fared so well.  This year we decided to try Neem oil as a more organic way to reduce the bugs and instead killed our blossoms, which therefore killed any chance of fruit.  Upon further research we discovered that you are not supposed to spray Neem oil when the trees are actually blossoming.  Uh Oh!  The strawberries did get one crop in before we did them in.  Oy!  Guess we will be visiting the local apple orchard for our apples this year.

With all the harvest laid out it was time to dig out the canning supplies and get going!  Yes you heard me right…Canning!  The lost art of preserving our vegetables in jars.  Time consuming, but oh so worth the efforts!  You will need some basic supplies: canning jars, rings and lids in various sizes, a large canning pot (with wire insert if you can), tongs to remove hot jars, a funnel with a large opening that will fit in small or large mouth jars, and hot pads and towels.  There are pressure canners, but if you are like me, I am afraid I would blow up my house.

canning supplies

I love to make homemade salsa and my kids love it even more.  In additional to my caramel, they each get two jars of salsa for Christmas every year.  They have already been asking me about it.

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I have two different recipes that I found that have always been a hit.  One is for mild Wonderful Salsa and one for Spicy Chunky Salsa.   You could use either of these and make it hotter or more mild just by the amount and variety of hot peppers you add.  I am a mild kinda girl so I keep that and the hot usually goes to everyone else.

I experiment with different hot peppers each year to see if I can get it just right.  Last year I used jalapenos, serranos and chiles.   This year I tried jalapenos and habanero peppers.  Now I am a safety aficionado so I donned my rubber gloves and started chopping the jalapenos.  No sweat.  (pun intended)  Next the habaneros.  I have never used habanero peppers before and the minute I cut into one, the fumes immediately overtook me and I went into a horrible coughing, choking fit!  I dumped them into the food processor and chopped them up and threw them into the pot all the while thinking I had just encountered tear gas.  WOW!  Those puppies are strong!  Note to self…if ever using habanero peppers in the future, rent gas mask.

Salsa cooking

I chopped the remaining ingredients and with two pots of salsa cooking on the stove, I got my jars ready.  It is important to have clean, sterilized jars to put your salsa into.  I run mine through the dishwasher, but hot soapy water works too.  Next I bring water to a boil in my canning pot.  I add the empty jars and the lids and rings to the hot water.  I wait about five minutes and then pull out a jar and fill it with salsa.  I use pint jars for this.  I leave 1/4″ – 1/2″ head space (the space between the salsa and the top of the jar) and then wipe the ring around the jar clean with a damp cloth.  This is important because if you have any salsa or food on the jar ring the lid will not seal properly.  Then add the lid and screw on the jar ring.  Set aside until all your jars are full.  Then return the jars to the canning pot and let them boil for about 10 minutes.  I remove the jars and transfer to my table to cool.  Be sure to protect your table as these little guys are HOT!  Now listen for the awesome sound of the lids sealing.  It makes a popping noise.    “Every time a lid pops, a jar of salsa is born.”

Salsa 2 2014

Next I tackled the tomatoes.  The key here is to skin them with as little waste as possible.  I bring a large pot filled about halfway with water to a boil.  Then add tomatoes and let simmer for about 1-2 minutes or until the skin splits.  Now occasionally you have the stubborn tomato that refuses to split it’s skin.  For those tomatoes I just take my paring knife and pierce the skin and it then splits the rest of the way.  Immediately remove from the hot water and plunge into a sinkful of cold water.  The skins will practically fall off on their own.  (This is how I did the tomatoes for the salsa, but then I ran them through the food processor to grind them up smaller). I then cut up the tomatoes into chunks and add to a large stock pot and simmer for about 1/2 hour, stirring occasionally.  I do not add any other ingredients to mine, but you could add salt or seasonings to your taste.  They are now ready to ladle into your clean, hot jars and then into a water bath canning pot for about 10 minutes.  Tomatoes are very acidic and I have had people tell me as long as the jars seal you don’t even need to put them in the water bath.  I still do because I just want to be sure they are sealed and safe.

Tomatoes 2

Voila!  I got 9 pints of mild salsa, 9 pints of hot salsa and 8 quarts of tomatoes.  I love to make fun canning labels for my jars with the name and  date.  Be creative and have fun!

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Homemade Christmas

I love homemade Christmas gifts.  For some reason they just seem so much more thoughtful.  Don’t get me wrong, I still have a list of things that I would like that are “store bought” (are you listening honey?) but I do enjoy making and receiving gifts that someone put their own time and talents into.   Every year finds me stitching up tea towels, table toppers, small quilts, etc. and I have been canning extra jam and salsa to give away.  But my one homemade stand by gift is my caramel.  An old friend shared her recipe with me years ago and it makes the most delicious, melt in your mouth caramel I have ever tasted!  I always make a bag for all my friends, family members and neighbors and have on occasion overheard…”I wonder if Mary Jo is making her caramel again this year?”  What a compliment.

Caramel Making

In the past I have been hesitant to “give up” the recipe.  This is not like me as I will share just about anything else.  But this was different.  After all, I am the one who makes the caramel and if everyone knew how it was made, it wouldn’t be as special.

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About two Christmas’ ago a friend from church asked for the recipe.  I compromised with her and told her I would give her the recipe if she came over and made it with me so she could see how it was done and we could share some girl time in the kitchen.  It was so much fun.  But that was it…no one else had the recipe.

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I wish this was my recipe box, isn’t it cool?

Well this year my mindset is a little different.  Here’s why.  Today I was making caramel corn.  A little different recipe but still very good.  After a few batches, I thought to myself, “Why not make a batch of my famous homemade caramel so it can cool in between caramel corn batches?”  I went to my handy dandy recipe box to get my caramel recipe, which has been written on the same piece of scratch pad stationery for the last 10 or so years.  But…IT WAS GONE!  I searched the box 3 times and no recipe.  I searched the entire shelf of cookbooks…no recipe!  Panic set in.  I sorta knew the recipe, but didn’t “KNOW” the recipe.  Why should I memorize it when it has been written on the same piece of paper forever and I only make it once a year.

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Then I remembered I had given the recipe to my friend at church!  I called and she read it back to me and we both had a laugh about my “secret” recipe being lost.  I thought about what I would have done if I hadn’t shared that recipe.  I would have been sunk.  Sharing and loving one another is what we are made to do.  This verse instantly came to my mind…”For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son,  that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.  John 3:16  Wow!  If God can share His Son I think I can share a silly caramel recipe.

So here it is for anyone who would like to make and enjoy it and if I ever lose the recipe again, I will be sure to call you too!

Homemade Caramel

4 sticks butter (salted or unsalted)

2 – 2 pound bags of brown sugar (I use light)

2 cups light Karo syrup

2 cans Sweetened Condensed Milk

2T vanilla

Melt butter and brown sugar in a non-stick large pot over med-high heat.  Add Karo syrup and sweetened condensed milk.  Bring to boil stirring constantly.  Boil for about 8-10 minutes stirring constantly.  Remove from heat and add vanilla.  Pour into a large baking dish lined with parchment paper…not wax paper.  Ask me how I know :/  Cool for several hours or overnight.  Cut into desired size pieces and roll in wax paper and twist the ends.  I usually pull the whole batch out of the pan and cut it right on the parchment paper with a cutting mat underneath.  The caramel is soft and melts in your mouth.  Get creative…I have added pecans and drizzled chocolate over the top and had turtles.  I have put apples on sticks and dipped in the still warm caramel and rolled in chopped peanuts for amazing caramel apples.  Make it your own!

Caramel Cutting

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Here’s hoping you have a truly blessed Christmas and a joyous New Year!

~Stay Blessed

Mary Jo Boyd

Farm Girl Sister #5559