During the dreary winter, sparkling jars of home-canned fruits and vegetables bring a shimmer of light to the dinner table-a seasonal reward. Now is the time to fill canning jars with fresh peaches, berries, tomatoes, okra, bell peppers and corn, all of which are in peak season, flushed with nutrients and delectable, too.
Over the next few weeks, I will also can late summer plums, apples and pears. Then my winter-in-waiting offering will stand on a couple of shelves in my kitchen, away from traffic and heat, gleaming like jewels, reminding me of an endeavor that the women in my family enjoyed with gusto years ago.
Their just reward was sparkling preserves and jellies that on cold winter days can be spooned over ice cream or spread on a wedge of plain or pound cake for an instant classy dessert.
You can also add a little rum, bourbon or liqueur to the canning juice in the jar and brush on grilled fruits such as pineapple or bananas, on baked pears and apples or, for a burnished sweet edge, to roast ham or pork or turkey.
Canned pickled okra is a favorite in this kitchen, especially when nestled on a plate of sauteed or steamed greens. The verdant pods are also fine with roast chicken or turkey or as a topping for a bowl of beans or black-eyed peas.
I often add a cup or two of pickled okra to a big, hearty salad redolent with fresh tomatoes-a favored combo in this kitchen. The ancient pods are full of nutrients, native to Africa, where they are known as gumbo, the same name as that famous New Orleans soup that our ancestors brought to this land.
But what I remember most about my family’s canning days years ago is that the canning was work, but fun, too. I can still see the women in my family teasing and faux-bickering over techniques and know-how. So don’t forget to invite over a friend or two to help out and to share a few laughs.
Several canning recipes are featured in my cookbook, “Brown Sugar: Soul Food Desserts from Family and Friends,” published by HarperCollins.
Makes two to three pints
- 3 pounds fresh okra, small tender pods
- 1 cup water
- 4 cloves garlic, crushed
- 2 large yellow or red onions, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 generous tablespoon chopped fresh dill or
- 1 teaspoon dried dill
- 2 to 3 tablespoons coriander seeds, crushed
- 1 to 2 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 to 1 teaspoon lightly crushed black peppercorns or coarse black pepper
- 1 teaspoon hot pepper flakes, or more if desired
- 4 to 4 1/2 cups cider vinegar
- Have available three pint jars. Sterilized the jars and leave in the hot water, off the fire, while preparing the okra. (See Hot Canning Tips.)
Rinse the okra and cut off the woody tips just above the ridge of the pods. Trim away any small leaves from the sides of the pods, leaving the pods whole. Set aside.
Pour the water into a large stainless steel pot that holds at least two quarts. (If you don’t have a large pot, do this in two batches.)
Stir into the pot garlic, onions, dill, coriander seed, salt, black pepper and hot pepper flakes. Bring the water to a boil, reduce the heat to simmer and cook for about five minutes, stirring a time or two.
Stir in the vinegar, increase the heat and bring the liquid to a boil again. Add the okra, covering well with the spices and liquid.
Bring the liquid to a boil again and cook the okra for two to three minutes, or until just tender. Watch carefully so as not to cook the okra until it is soft and soggy.
Immediately remove the pan from the heat. Using a large slotted spoon, pack the okra into hot jars until about three-quarters filled.
Pour the vinegar into a stainless steel saucepan, bring to a quick boil and remove from the heat. Pour the hot vinegar into the jars over the okra, leaving about 1/4-inch head space in each jar.
Process the jars of okra for 10 minutes and cool on a wire rack before storing.
Berry Preserves Topping
Makes five half-pints
- 1 quart fresh strawberries (4 cups)
- 1 pint blueberries, blackberries or raspberries (2 cups)
- 3 cups granulated sugar, or to taste
- 1 cup fresh orange juice
- 1 teaspoon cardamom seeds, or more if desired, crushed
This delicious topping is easy and makes a nice holiday gift.
Have available five half-pint canning jars and sterilize the jars and all canning utensils. Set aside a 4- or 5-quart heavy stainless steel pot.
Rinse the fruit, discarding the stems and the leaves from the strawberries and any bruised fruit. Cut the strawberries into 1/4-inch slices. Leave the berries whole. Place the fruit in a glass bowl and set aside.
Combine the sugar and orange juice in the pot. Crush the cardamom seeds in a coffee grinder or with a rolling pin.
Place the crushed seeds in the center of a 4-inch square of cheesecloth or other thin white cotton cloth. Tie tightly into a knot, making a bag. Add the bag of spice to the pot.
Set the pot on the heat and bring the mixture to a roiling boil, stirring constantly until the sugar dissolves. Boil for two minutes, stirring frequently.
Stir in the berries and boil for three more minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and cook the berries and syrup, stirring often, for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the syrup is as thick as honey and shows resistance when stirred.
Remove the pot from the heat and discard the spice bag.
Carefully ladle the fruit into the hot jars, using a funnel if available, leaving 1/2-inch head space in each jar. Wipe the rim of the jars with a clean, damp cloth. Seal the jars at once and place on the screw bands.
Process for 10 minutes. For best flavor, allow the preserves to remain in the jar for two or three weeks to develop flavor before serving.