June 17, 2015 § Leave a comment
Ever feel like you’re in a race to keep ahead of food waste at home — particularly during the summer? Summer, for all of its wonderful bounty of fresh produce from CSA boxes, farmers’ markets, and home gardens, also presents a challenge: how to make the most of the fruits and vegetables that come into your home before they get too soft, wilty, or (ugh) moldy? With the drought continuing here in California, it seems more important than ever to use up what comes into the kitchen, rather than letting it any of it go to waste.
I seem to be managing the vegetables so far (salads — lots of salads with an array of lettuces — paired with roasted vegetables like fennel and carrots), but the fruit is another story. Between glossy, large, bright-red strawberries from Fifth Crow Farms and an abundance of quickly ripening backyard apricots and long-lingering lemons, I’ve got more than my fair share of fruit — and with it a small case of FOMO. I mean…What if I don’t make the most of that fresh, seasonal fruit while I can?
If you’re struggling with the idea of not enjoying all of that fruit while it’s fresh, ease up. The beauty of eating seasonally is that you get to look forward to that bounty and really appreciate it while the food is available — when it’s at the peak of flavor and freshness. But you also have the option to preserve that fruit for later enjoyment, too. So, here’s your cheat sheet for enjoying summer fruit now and later. From proper storage to freezing to (yes, you can!) making jams and preserves, here are some ways to reduce summer fruit waste at home.
I try to get as much life out of my fruit as possible, which starts with storing it appropriately. First thing to know: different summer fruits have different storage needs. More important is that not every piece of fruit has to (or should be) stored in the refrigerator. After many years of trial and error, here’s how I’m storing summer fruit.
- Berries: Don’t wash until you’re ready to use them. To store, line a plastic or glass storage container with paper towel. Arrange the berries in a single layer on the paper towel, cover with a well-fitting lid, and store on the top shelf of the refrigerator. Soft berries (raspberries, blackberries, etc.) will last a few days at most. I’ve been able to keep strawberries and blueberries this way for up to 10 days, but typically have to replace the paper towel and wipe down the interior of the storage container to remove condensation every 3-4 days.
- Stone Fruit: Again, I don’t wash stone fruit until I’m ready to use it. Store ripe fruit in a single layer in a dish or on a sheet pan at room temperature and use or freeze it within 2-3 days. Storing stone fruit in the refrigerator results in an unpleasant, mealy texture, so don’t do it. (Note: Cherries are the exception! Store cherries in a closed container or ziplock bag in the refrigerator to extend their lifespan.)
- Citrus: Wash, dry, and store at room temperature in a dish or bowl if you’re going to use them within 2 days. Otherwise, store in a ziplock bag (with the air pressed out) in coldest part of the refrigerator (usually the bottom shelf or crisper drawer). I’ve kept citrus this way for up to three months.
Already know that you’ve got too much fruit on hand and want to freeze some for later? There are three ways to prepare fruit for freezing:
- Unsweetened Pack
- Syrup Pack
- Sugar Pack
I’ve tried all three methods and have found that the unsweetened approach is quickest, easiest, and leaves me the most flexibility for using the fruit when I thaw it. Here’s how:
- Wash the fruit, removing any dirt. Place on paper towels or cotton kitchen towels and pat dry, removing as much moisture as possible.
- Cut away any bruised, damaged, or moldy spots, then prepare the fruit as follows:
Strawberries: Remove green tops and hull.
Stone fruit: Slice in half and remove the pit.
Blueberries and soft berries: Remove any stems.
- Arrange the fruit in a single layer on a parchment paper-lined sheet pan (don’t crowd or pieces might stick together when frozen), then place in the freezer for an hour or so — just until the fruit is frozen.
- Store fruit in a freezer bag with the air pressed out.
For more information about freezing fruit using the syrup and sugar pack methods, check out The National Center for Home Food Preservation’s web site.
Making Fruit Compotes
Compotes are my favorite way to use up berries that are past their prime for eating out of hand or not pretty enough for decorating a cake or tart. Berries, sugar, and lemon juice are all you need to make a quick berry compote, and you can tailor the amount of sugar and lemon juice to your taste.
Need a starting point? For every 6 ounces of berries, add 1 to 1½ ounces of sugar and a teaspoon of lemon juice. Cook in a saucepan over medium to medium-high heat for 10 minutes for a thinner, saucy compote, or as long as 15 minutes for a thicker, jammy compote. Try this Strawberry-Orange Compote (or substitute your favorite berries).
Preserving: Jams and Marmalades
I’ve been baby stepping my way into canning this year, but it’s turning out to be my new addiction! When I made my first batch of marmalade, and the canning seals didn’t bounce back when I tested them, I did the happy dance around my kitchen. After another successful batch of marmalade, I was ready to move on to making apricot butter, and then strawberry jam.
If you’ve been thinking about canning, but felt uncertain or afraid, don’t let that hold you back! It’s easier and less scary than you might think! Just take the time to learn a little about the process of canning and why it’s important to follow recipes and canning steps as written. Here are some resources that I’ve found informative and helpful.
- Easy citrus marmalade: If you’re just starting out, this Blood-Orange Rosemary Marmalade from The Herbfarm Cookbook is an easy introduction to canning. Prep work is minimal, and there’s no water bath processing step to worry about (you will have to sterilize the jars and lids, though). I’ve substituted regular oranges and ruby grapefruits with success.
- Small-batch canning: If you’re short on kitchen storage space or don’t want to invest in making large batches of jam (seriously, what would I do with 10 pints of jam??), then small-batch canning is for you! What do I mean by small-batch canning? Think: 2—4 pints or half-pints at a time. Food in Jars blogger and author Marisa McClellan offers a wealth of information about the equipment for and process of canning on her website, not to mention some tasty recipes. (Use the site’s search box to locate small-batch jam recipes or scroll through the recipe index.)
- Pectin-free, low-sugar fruit jams: While searching for small-batch, pectin-free, low-sugar recipes, I stumbled upon this post on Northwest Edible Life. Blogger Erica not only provides a detailed introduction to making jam the old-school way, but also offers up this fun chart for creating your own custom flavors.
Sharing Is Caring
And let’s not forget the simplest way to reduce food waste: share with family, neighbors, and friends. Every summer I trade apricots to my next-door neighbors for their home-grown tomatoes. They make apricot pie, and I make a batch of oven-dried tomatoes (some of which eventually make it into the freezer for longer preservation!).
Want a broader community for sharing your abundance of home-grown fruits and vegetables? Try offering it on neighborhood websites Freecycle.org or Nextdoor.com.
How are you preventing summer food waste at home? Share your ideas and thoughts in the comments below or on our Facebook page.
March 28, 2015 § 2 Comments
March was full of activity Chez 650Food, and things have been busy, busy around here — lest you think I was taking a hiatus and had run off to some tropical beach. (sigh. I wish.). Following home reno projects, spring cleaning, and a trip to our nation’s capital for the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) annual conference, I’m looking forward to a bit of calm (read: quiet) in April.
One project that I did manage to check off my list in March was a first attempt at canning (booyah!). Turns out that marmalade is a good solution for baby-stepping your way into canning, not to mention a delicious way to use up citrus fruits. In previous posts I’ve written about ways to enjoy a bounty of lemons (here, here, and here), but what about oranges? The last of the blood oranges are dwindling, but the navels and Valencias just keep a-comin’.
When I was doing research for a Waste-Less Wednesday post on herbs, I came across a recipe for Orange-Rosemary Marmalade in Jerry Traunfeld’s The Herbfarm Cookbook. Let me tell you: the recipe is fool-proof. You don’t have to be a professional cook or experienced canner to get this one right. Nor do you have to spend hours over the stove. Best of all, the recipe can easily be halved for smaller households (because, really, who has space for 6 jars of marmalade??).
Why is marmalade such a good choice for first-time canners?
- Fruit prep is simple: wash, dry, and slice.
- No special ingredients required: citrus fruits are high in pectin, a carbohydrate found in the cell walls of fruit, which acts as a gelling agent when combined with water. Citrus brings its own pectin to the party, which means that you don’t need to buy or add pectin.
- Not so time-consuming: Marmalade is fast! Total cooking time is 45-60 minutes, with the actual, hands-on part happening during the last 15 minutes or so.
- No food waste: marmalade is a total win because you use the whole fruit: rind, pith, and pulp! (No seeds, though. Make sure to remove those.)
Before pointing you to the recipe, it’s worth saying a few things about the elephant in the room: botulism. Many first-time canners are worried that they’re going to botulize themselves and their families, so here’s some info that might help ease your mind. First of all, cases of botulism are very rare in the US. According to the CDC, an average of 145 cases are reported annually, and only 15% of those are caused by food. (To put that in perspective, the US population is about 318.9 million people.)
Food-borne botulism that results from home-preserved foods typically occurs in low-acid, high-moisture foods, such as tomatoes, green beans, and beets. Citrus-based marmalade is a high-acid food. The boiling process reduces the moisture content significantly. Sterilizing the jars by boiling them for at least 10 minutes is essential to reducing any possible contamination as well. For more information about food-borne botulism, check out this article on botulism from the CDC and this detailed post about canning from Food in Jars.
So, thanks to the wonders of Google Books, you can check out the recipe yourself and make either a full or half batch as suits your needs. I made a half batch, which yielded 2 pint jars and a not-quite-full half-pint jar.
The ingredient list is short: oranges, lemon(s), sugar, water, rosemary. Choose organic fruit if you can, then you’ll only have to give it a quick rinse and scrub to remove any dirt.
You can use any kind of orange, but the combo of blood oranges with rosemary elevates the marmalade’s flavor and gives it a pretty color. Plus, making marmalade now and preserving it for later means that you can enjoy blood oranges any time of year.
The recipe is a two-parter, so you’ll need to plan ahead a bit. On the first day, prep the fruit: wash, dry, slice in half and remove seeds, then slice the halves thinly. If you have a food processor with a slicing disk, you can get the work done in just a few minutes.
Sliced fruit goes into the pot with water for an overnight soak that softens the rinds and releases the pectin. On the second day, you boil the water and fruit for 30 minutes. The fruit will soften further as it cooks down and the pectin is released. The color will start to change from a rich blood orange to a pinkish-orange color.
After boiling the fruit for 30 minutes, add the sugar and rosemary sprigs (wrapped in cheesecloth and tied) and continue boiling for 15-30 minutes. This is the part where you want to be nearby and pay attention. You’ll also want to sterilize the pint jars by submerging them in boiling water for at least 10 minutes and sterilize the canning lids and bands in a separate saucepan.
As the marmalade mixture starts to gel, the bubbles will change from small, quick champagne-like bubbles to larger, thicker, more viscous bubbles. Once you see those larger bubbles (around 15-20 minutes in), do a “wrinkle test” to see if the marmalade has set up or needs to continue cooking.
Have a chilled plate waiting in the refrigerator or freezer. Spoon a small amount of marmalade jelly (not the fruit) from the pot onto the plate and return the plate to the refrigerator. Let the jelly chill for a minute or two, then test it by removing the plate from the refrigerator and pushing the jelly with your finger. If it wrinkles, your marmalade is finished and ready for canning. If it’s still smooth and syrupy, keep cooking. I found that the wrinkle test was positive at 27 minutes and my marmalade was done! (YMMV.)
You don’t need any special equipment for making this marmalade, other than some pint-sized canning jars with lids and lid bands. In the 650 you can find pint-sized jars sold in packages of 4 or 12 at Orchard Supply, Ace Hardware, Target, and Whole Foods.
The Ball Jar folks also make an inexpensive canning-tool “kit” that includes a jar lifter, headspace tool (for measuring how much space to leave below the mouth of the jar), wide-mouth funnel, and a magnetic lid lifter. The kit, which is available at Orchard Supply and Ace Hardware, is a “nice-to-have,” but not required. You can substitute items that you likely already have at home. Got a pair of kitchen tongs? Create a gripping jar lifter and lid lifter by wrapping a thick rubber band around each wide, scalloped end of the tongs. Keep a metal ruler handy for measuring headspace.
The real test of canning success is waiting to find out how well you sealed the jars. You won’t know until the jars have cooled almost completely whether or not you have a good seal. If you press on the center of the lid, and it doesn’t pop back at you, congratulations! You’ve got a good seal. Refrigerate jars that don’t have a good seal — or any about which you might be concerned. Also, refrigerate any jars that weren’t filled to the headspace recommended in the recipe. You’ll want to open and use those first.
I’ll admit to doing the happy dance in my kitchen when those lids didn’t pop back at me. Maybe it wasn’t a Tom Hanks “I have made fire!” (Castaway) moment, but it was pretty cool. Have you made marmalade? Share your experience or ideas in the comments.