Last updated on November 17th, 2016
Once the haul is home, the clock starts ticking and it’s time to find ways to cook and eat everything before it becomes compost fodder or gets banished to the back of the pantry until next year’s spring cleaning. For new inspiration (and new opportunities-slash-excuses to try even more unusual ingredient combinations), I’m turning to the book Beyond Canning: New Techniques, Ingredients, and Flavors to Preserve, Pickle, and Ferment Like Never Before by preserving expert (and Good. Food. Stories. contributor) Autumn Giles.
What falls under the blanket label of “canning” encompasses a variety of techniques for transforming perishable ingredients into foods with a longer lifespan, from making jam and marmalade to pickling and making relish to harnessing the natural power and flavor of fermentation. In Beyond Canning, Autumn works through three methods of “putting up”—preserving with sugar, preserving with vinegar, and preserving with salt.
As the title promises, the book does more than offer an orchard’s worth of fruit jams. In fact, there’s only one basic strawberry preserves recipe to be found in the Sweet Preserves chapter, tucked away among exotic combinations like orange-rosewater curd and hibiscus lime jelly. While Autumn includes water bath-canning instructions for each of these recipes, because they’re all small-batch yields (usually 2 pints or less), I don’t even bother with that step of the process and send my jars straight to the fridge once they’ve been filled and cooled. They’ll keep for at least a month there, and it gives me incentive to eat through my bounty instead of hoarding it.
What gives me incentive to eat a good breakfast every morning? Tomato-vanilla jam sounds almost too quirky to work, but its sweetness is a surprising counterpoint to anything you want to top with cheese. It’s my new go-to egg sandwich spread, but has also made its way onto Gruyere grilled cheese sandwiches, weekend burgers, and goat cheese-smeared crackers. The recipe follows at the bottom of the post.
The pickling chapter is equally diverse, showcasing the different ways vinegar works its magic as a flavorful preservation tool. We all know what it can do to vegetables like carrots and beets, but as Autumn proves, it’s equally effective in bringing out new flavors in cherries, figs, and apples. And I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for the vinegar-infused drinks known as shrubs, which get a little love here. Add a little tequila and sparkling water to Beyond Canning‘s celery black pepper shrub recipe and it’s a dead ringer for my favorite cocktail at The Happiest Hour, the Link Ray.
The final third of the book is devoted to fermentation, breaking down this sometimes-intimidating preservation process in a way that even beginners can handle. The basics of both dry salting and brining are given step-by-step coverage, with a list of troubleshooting tips to put your mind at ease while your jars are resting and doing their natural thing.
As Autumn recommended, I sprung for a mason jar airlock lid instead of just leaving my ferment covered with cheesecloth or a flour sack towel, as I’ve done in the past. It’s a small purchase, but one that reaps big dividends—this time around, none of my ferments succumbed to mold and there was no questionable smell emanating from any jars tucked away on the counter. (Yeah, there’s going to be a distinctive scent that comes with everything you ferment. That’s just how you get kraut and kimchi to taste so good.)
The tangy spiralized daikon garlic “noodles” are a perfect foil for Thai peanut sauce, adding a depth of flavor and switching up the usual texture of this cold pasta dish with a crunchy bite. They’d also be fantastic in your usual pasta salad or with this soba noodle dressing.
Even if you’re not ready to work your way up to fermentation, give the tomato vanilla jam recipe below a go. The interplay of flavors and simplicity of the process are a stellar example of what makes Beyond Canning both a fresh perspective and a reliable resource for preservers of all skill levels.
adapted from Beyond Canning: New Techniques, Ingredients, and Flavors to Preserve, Pickle, and Ferment Like Never Before by Autumn Giles
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Total time: 1 hour, if water bath canning, plus overnight maceration time
Makes 1 pint
- 1 1/2 cups (10 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
- 2 vanilla beans
- 28 ounces (about 2 dry pints) red cherry tomatoes, halved
- 2 tablespoons bottled lemon juice
Pour the sugar into a large nonreactive bowl.
Split the vanilla beans and scrape the seeds into the sugar. Reserve the pods separately.
Stir the sugar and vanilla bean seeds together with your hands, rubbing the seeds into the sugar until they’re evenly distributed.
Add the halved tomatoes and lemon juice and stir until no dry clumps of sugar remain. (If you won’t be water bath canning, you can use fresh lemon juice, but bottled lemon juice is necessary when water bath canning. It provides the proper amount of acidity needed to make the final recipe shelf stable without refrigeration.)
Add the reserved vanilla pods, submerging them in the tomatoes, cover, and refrigerate overnight or up to 12 hours.
If you’ll be water bath canning, prepare your canning station and start heating your water. (See this excellent water bath canning primer from Food in Jars if you’re a canning beginner.)
Pour the contents of the bowl into a medium nonreactive saucepan, scraping the sides of the bowl to get any and all sugary liquid.
Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar as the liquid heats. Continue cooking and stirring frequently until the jam thickens and sets, about 15 minutes. (How to know if the jam is set? It should slide off a spatula or spoon in a thick sheet instead of dripping in loose drops. You can also do the plate test by spooning a bit onto a plate and placing it in the freezer for a few minutes to cool it quickly. Run your finger through the cooled jam to check its consistency.) Reduce the heat as needed if the jam starts to stick and scorch.
Remove from the heat and discard the vanilla bean pods.
Ladle the jam into 2 half-pint jars or 1 pint jar. Leave 1/4 inch headspace if you’ll be water bath canning.
Screw the lids on the jars and process in the water bath for 15 minutes or let cool on a wire rack until the jars are cool enough to handle, then refrigerate.
Unopened water bath-canned jars can be stored in a cool, dark place for up to 1 year. Unopened un-canned jars can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 months. Once opened, eat your jam within 1 month.