Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Fruit cocktail, peaches and sustainability

Fruit Cocktails, Peaches and Sustainability

Lovely peaches and pears are available in Nova Scotia right now. Get those local peaches while you can, they go fast. The peaches come from the Annapolis Valley and are small and fuzzy and cling to the pit, but they are worth the work to eat or preserve. We get great pears as well and now is the time to make fruit cocktail.

The second most important ingredient for making fruit cocktail or canning peaches is the Bernardin Guide to Home Preserving. I spent the winter going through cookbooks and books specializing in canning and jamming etc. and generally the recipes in the Bernardin book are the core recipes in other resources. The amount of cinnamon or pickling spice might change here and there but overall, these recipes are fool proof. And I am a fool. I haven't messed any up yet. Visit their site at www.homecanning.com/can to see what's cooking.

OK, here we go.
Canning fruit cocktail:
Buy 5 pears, 8-10 peaches, realize that local grapes won't be ready for a few weeks yet and decide to substitute in blueberries. This has interesting consequences. 1 cup of maraschino cherries are needed but these will never be local. Having read the recipe a few weeks earlier, I bought some local cherries and tried to keep them fresh in the crisper. I pulled out any bruised or moldy ones every few days and as good luck would have it, I had a little more than a cup when the other fruit was ripe. If you can't get cherries, strawberries will do. Some late bearing berries are now available.

Next, go out side and put all your garden furniture and potted plants into the shed because Hurricane Bill is coming in a day. Back in the kitchen, clean all the fruit and realize something called Fruit-Fresh is required. This is ascorbic acid. What is that? Turns out it is vitamin C and once I clued into that, I remembered that one cookbook suggested crushing vitamin C tablets and mixing them with water and pouring the mix over the cooked fruit. It works. Nothing turned brown and now my fruit cocktail and canned peaches have extra vitamin C in them.

Follow all Bernardin instructions regarding cooking times, canning times, levels of fruit in the jar and so on. Truly, if you read the instructions (which I hardly ever do until it is too late) you can not go wrong. I recommend wearing your glasses when reading recipes. I often forget which recipe is on which side of the page and find I am on the path to making sour krout instead.

What the recipes don't give you is a sense of time. How long does it all take. Well, a good chunk as it turns out. Peaches are a bugger to clean if they aren't ripe and if they are too ripe, they have the opposite problems. Under ripe and the skin won't peel, even if you boil the whole peach and then rinse in cold water. Stubborn is the word. If they are too ripe, then the flesh peels off with the skin. So you want a moderate peach. One with a bit of give to its flesh, but not firm. If you can't find anything soft enough, then let them sit on the counter for a day or too to reach a nice squish.

Fruit flies – are inevitable. They are already in your home, you may not have noticed but they are. As soon as the fruit is prepared, a general all out invitation to cousins and great uncles goes out and they all arrive, spoons in hand. I keep the vacuum nearby when canning. This is illogical in the carbon foot print sense, but in a “kill that bug in my kitchen” sense, a vacuum can't be over rated.

Boil up your syrup and hope that the electricity doesn't go out. Hurricane Bill is in full throttle and the winds and rains are lashing. We are doing a team work effort to get the fruit cooked and processed through the water bath.

Water Bath: not an optional event. Also not a romantic moment. Do not climb in with your partner, it will hurt. A Water bath involves a huge pot of boiling water, a wire trivet on the bottom of the pot so the jars won't crack against each other and enough water to cover the jars. It takes an age to get the water up to a boil so this can be done while the syrup is being processed and the jars and lids are being sterilized. Because we have committed to making more preserves from local produce, we purchased a medium canning pot from Canadian Tire. Lots of dry goods type of stores carry them and they do simplify things. If this is your first go at it, use the pot you have for boiling corn or pasta and make sure your jars are covered at least a half inch with the water during the entire process. If the edge of the pot is too low, you may lose a lot of water in the roiling boil and have to top up. This might add to your cooking time. One solution is to use smaller jars and do the water bath twice. You do the math. Best bet is to borrow one for a day.

The recipes make it sound as if all the fruit cleaning, syrup boiling, sterilizing and water bathing will take about an hour. Nope, it takes a lot more. If you add up all the minutes, minus the Hurricane preparation and add in the help from darling hubby, it will take closer to two hours. Maybe three if the peaches are stubborn. (see above) This is not a bad amount of time. It is the time it would take to listen to a good CD or two and in fact, this is a good thing to be doing while undertaking the preservation of local foods. I also download an audio book from the library and listen to it during the water bath time.

This recipe yields 5 x 500 ml jars of fruit cocktail and that means about 10 deserts or 20 servings. Let's say the fruit, ingredients, jars, lids, electricity and time added up to about $30.00, divide it by 5 = $6.00 a jar. Seems pricey. Subtract the carbon foot print of buying tinned fruit or worse, the foot print of imported fresh fruit and I expect, it comes out looking much better. I haven't figured out how to do this kind of calculation but someone has and I've concluded that my time investment is worth the end product.

The addition of blueberries to the fruit cocktail turned the concoction a tremendous purple! Not mauve or light blue, but PURPLE. Just think how cool this will be when we open a jar in the dead of winter, pour it over ice cream or pound cake and have a chow down on fruit from our own province we will know that the carbon foot print was relatively small and plus, when I get to lick the bowl, I will have a huge purple tongue.

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