Wednesday, August 16, 2017

O Knights of Ni, we have brought you your shrubbery...

No, not that kind of shrub, but I couldn't resist using that Monty Python quote. The shrub I am going to talk about today is the one I made and canned this week. Sound intriguing?  According to Wikipedia here is the definition of a shrub:

In terms of mixed drinks, shrub is the name of two different, but related, acidulated beverages. One type of shrub is a fruit liqueur that was popular in 17th and 18th century England, typically made with rum or brandy mixed with sugar and the juice or rinds of citrus fruit.

The word 'shrub' can also refer to a cocktail or soft drink that was popular during America's colonial era, made by mixing a vinegared syrup with spirits, water, or carbonated water.The term 'shrub' can also be applied to the sweetened vinegar-based syrup, from which the cocktail is made; the syrup is also known as drinking vinegar. Drinking vinegar is often infused with fruit juice, herbs and spices for use in mixed drinks.

In my case, I wanted to create a vinegar based fruit syrup that I could can and then later add to a variety of bases such as sparkling water or ginger ale. A couple years ago we were introduced to shrubs at an artisan pizza restaurant that offered a strawberry-black pepper shrub that was quite tasty. There are lots of recipes for creating shrub concentrates, but almost all of them are for a refrigerated end product. I wanted to be able to can up a batch, or several various flavored batches as we harvest the fruits and berries in our gardens and around the property.

Dehydrated Glaskins Rhubarb, Berries Galore
and Ozark Beauty Strawberries. 
This year we had a lot of strawberries and rhubarb, well a lot for our young gardens. I had been harvesting these over the past months and dehydrating them on a weekly basis as I never have enough at one time to create a batch of anything. The cool weather this week, and the tomato soup project last week, has got me in the canning mood early this year so I pulled together another project. First I set about re-hydrating  the two types of strawberries from my garden, Ozark Beauties and Berries Galore, along with some of my rhubarb. I placed about 2 cups strawberry pieces and 1 cup rhubarb slices in a tall glass jar, add 4 cups of water and placed it in the fridge for about 24 hours. I checked to make sure that most of the liquid had been absorbed by the fruit but that there was still a little in the jar. This would indicate that the fruit had taken on all the water that it could.

I then pulled together everything I needed to create and can the shrub. The recipe I started with called for fresh fruit and also used different spices but I prepped my dehydrated stores and opted to use black pepper as the spice:

6 cups re-hydrated fruit with liquid
3 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups cider vinegar
6 black peppercorns per 1/2 pint canning jar

I prepped half pint jars and lids for canning and put water in the water bath canner to bring to a boil. With the above ingredient list I was thinking that 10 half-pint jars (10 cups) would be enough for the batch. I know, the fruit, sugar and vinegar add up to 11 cups but my thinking was that when the sugar dissolved it would not take up as much space. But, to be on the safe side I did prep 12 jars. In fact, I only had ten empty half-pints on my pantry shelves ready to be reused so I had to open a new box of jars to take out two more. I told myself that according to Murphy's Law if I did not open that new box to prep those two extra jars I would be in the middle of filling the batch and realize I was running short of jars.

I started preparing the shrub by adding the vinegar, sugar and salt to my maslin jam pan and heated it to dissolve the sugar. I then added my fruit and heated it just below the boil. I wanted the mixture to be hot to put in the jars but did not want it to get foamy so I took it off the heat as soon as I saw foam just starting to form.

I am a little OCD about getting equal amounts of ingredients in jars when canning things like soup. I usually add the individual ingredients in layers rather than cooking a big batch and ladling in random scoops that may not evenly disperse the ingredients across all the jars. I am not digressing (for once), I am explaining why my next step involved using a slotted spoon to scoop the fruit out of the shrub mixture and evenly distribute it into each jar. I scooped up a spoonful with my slotted spoon and used my canning jar funnel to place the spoonful in each jar which filled them about half-way with fruit. This seemed like a good amount to me and when I fished out my last spoonful of fruit from the shrub liquid I had filled 10 jars. Did you get that irony? Is that Murphy's Law in reverse or Murphy's Law2? I calculated 10 jars, then assumed Murphy's Law would strike so I over-compensated with 12 jars and then I filled 10 jars with fruit. Oh, well.

Time to ladle the liquid into the jars, leaving 1/2 inch of head space. Oops, I almost forgot to add the black peppercorns. The amount was just a guess on my part. Spices intensify when canned so I did not want to go crazy with the pepper. I settled on six peppercorns per jar and then I filled the jars with the shrub liquid. Want to guess what happened? Murphy's Law3! I filled the ten jars that had fruit in them and still had liquid to spare. I divided it up among the two remaining jars, leaving a little in the pan (you'll see why in a minute). I then took a spoon and transferred a little fruit from each of the ten jars into the two extra jars. Of course that now meant the ten jars were slightly below the 1/2 inch head space. That is what the liquid I had reserved in the pan was for, to refill the ten jars I had just robbed fruit from - sometimes overthinking a problem does work!

I added peppercorns to the final two jars, wiped the rims of all the jars, added lids and rings and water bathed for 10 minutes. This batch produced 12 half-pints of fruited shrub concentrate (as if you didn't already know how many jars). One jar did not seal, which very rarely happens to me when I am canning but I blame it on all the dinking around I did when filling the jars. That jar went in the fridge and became our sample jar.

To create a beverage to sample I strained the syrup from the fruit and added 3 tablespoons syrup to a 12 ounce glass of tonic water. After Alan and I took a sip we decided it needed a bit more flavor so we added one more tablespoon. We really enjoyed this ratio and I am looking forward to experimenting with other variations. We couldn't tell the pepper was in the mix, I think a better grade of pepper and a coarse crushing would improve that. I would also like to try fresh fruit to see the difference. Elderberries are in season, so that may be the next batch of shrubs on the to-do list. And while 'prune the shrubs' may be on some people's to-do lists, prune shrubs are not on my list to try.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Hammy's Condensed Tomato Soup

I did it! I have successful canned a condensed soup like Campbell's tomato soup. I am a big fan of tomato soup, especially the store bought canned soup that you add milk to and can drink from a mug. Last year I canned some tomato soup but it was not the consistency I was looking for. It tastes fine, but did not 'hit the spot' for that store bought mark I was looking for. I know, it's weird, I have all these lovely home-grown tomatoes and I am striving to re-create a store bought product. But sometimes, there are just certain things we all crave.

Tomato powder made from
dehydrated tomatoes.
Last year I also dehydrated a lot of our tomatoes and turned them into tomato powder. I then used this powder to make tomato soup. This turns out to make a very good soup, but it makes a heartier more artisan style soup since my dried tomatoes, and hence the powder, contain the skins and seeds. So, while we enjoy this soup, it is not the comfort food I was looking for and it also is not a heat and serve variety as I have to reconstitute the tomato powder and then add all the other ingredients for the soup.

This year I was once again dehydrating tomatoes, which were quite prolific in the gardens. But then when over a week of overcast skies meant we did not have the extra power to run the dehydrators and I had tomatoes stacking up in the refrigerator and then on the kitchen counters. I decided to research my soup idea again and give it one more try. I discovered one product and one technique that made all the difference. The product is Clear-Gel (not to be confused with Sure-Jell) and the technique is how you cut up your tomatoes.

Tomatoes, onions and celery cooking down.
Here is the recipe and I will explain the process below:
Tomatoes (about 8 quarts when cut up)
1 large onion chopped
1 bunch of celery
1 cup of brown sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 t. salt
1 1/4 cup Clear-Gel (Cooked Type)

First, what I learned about cutting up tomatoes. The tomato soup I canned last year has water separation in the jars. It is perfectly fine to use, but does not look pretty. I have learned that if you cut tomatoes and let them sit they will release an enzyme that causes water to be released from the tomatoes. To prevent this you need to heat the tomatoes quickly after cutting them. So, cut a couple cups of tomatoes, add them to your pot and get them cooking, then continue cutting your tomatoes in small batches and adding them to the pot in this manner.

Clear-Gel (Cooked Typed) can be used
to created canned condensed soups.
And a few words about Clear-Gel. First off, you will not find it in the grocery store. You will find Sure-Jell but the two products are NOT interchangeable. I ordered mine on Amazon. Clear-Gel is a modified cornstarch that is often used by professional bakers for making pie fillings. It is a thickener that remains clear, has no flavor and keeps the product smooth (no lumps). Also it comes in both a cooked and instant variety. For canning you always want to use the cooked type because the instant will become unstable when heated twice which is what happens when you prepare a recipe and then can it.

The cooked vegetables have been run through the food 
mill to remove the seeds and skins for a smooth soup.
Okay, now to get cooking and canning...
1. Wash tomatoes and core (remove stem). I used a mix of the six varieties I have in the gardens this year.
2. Quarter small tomatoes, for larger tomatoes cut the quarters in half for smaller chunks. Remember to do this in batches of about two cups at a time and throw them into the pot that is already on the heat.
3. Chop your onion and celery and add to the pot. I actually did this after the first batch of tomatoes to give the onions and celery a longer cooking time.
4. Once all the tomatoes, onions and celery are in the pot (my batch filled my maslin jam pan up to the 2 gallon mark) simmer for about 1 1/2 hours until the onion and celery are tender.
5. Remove from heat and run through a food mill in small batches to remove the seeds, skins, etc. (I ended up with just over 1 1/2 gallons of soup.)

Mixing the sugar into the Clear-Gel and stirring some
of the hot liquid into this mix helps ensures a smooth
mixture when adding the Clear-Gel into the soup.
At this point my Clear-Gel had not arrived from Amazon yet so I put the soup in the fridge.
6. Prep pint jars for canning, place lids in simmering water and prep the pressure canner.
7. Add lemon juice and salt to soup.
8. Mix the Clear-Gel with the sugar.
9. Add about 2 cups of soup into the Clear-Gel/sugar mix and stir until smooth.
10. Pour the Clear-Gel mixture into the soup and stir well. The soup will not thicken at this point.
11. Ladle hot soup into jars, leaving 1 inch head space. My batch filled 16 pint jars.
12. Clean jar rims, add lids & rings and place in canner.
13. Can at 10 pounds pressure (adjust for altitude as needed) for 20 minutes.
14. When canner is ready to open, remove jars, rest for 24 hours, remove rings, label and store.

I tried the soup as I was putting it into the jars and I was afraid it was going to be too sweet even though I had used only half the sugar called for in most of the recipes I found. Then I remember that this was a condensed version so it would probably be okay that it was sweeter straight from the jar.

Pints of Hammy's Condensed Tomato Soup
(So named because my grandkids call me Hammy)
When I opened the canner at the end of processing I saw I had quite a bit if cook-over, well maybe a half a teaspoon out of several jars which I consider a lot when I had left a 1-inch head space. When I had poured the soup into the jars it was still thin, the Clear-Gel does not thicken immediately, but when I took the jars out of the canner it was somewhat thickened and that may have caused the cook-over. However, all the jars sealed, I just had a bit of clean-up on most of the jars when I removed the rings. I used less of the Clear-Gel than is recommended because I did not want it to be too thick. I am not sure if a thicker product would lead to more or less cook-over from the boiling action. Next time I may experiment with a little more thickener but we really liked this end product with the amount used.

Mmmm-mmmm Good!
I took a couple jars to the next meeting of our self-reliance group as my show-and-tell. This was a brave move because I hadn't tried the finished product yet. As the soup was not too thick, I mixed one jar of soup with a half jar of milk. I was a bit worried because it looked a bit light in color after the milk was added and I thought it might not be flavorful. However, everyone agreed that it was very good - there was plenty of flavor (just no red food color to enhance the appearance). This is definitely a keeper and worth some hot summertime canning in the kitchen to enjoy the warmth of comforting tomato soup on a cold winter night.