Canned Cherries for a Flamboyant Dessert

cherries in cointreau for blogBefore cherry season comes to a close, I want to share with you a recipe I recently developed for the Washington State Fruit Commission, thanks to whom a big box of fresh cherries landed on my porch a few weeks ago.

The cherries, dark and of an unnamed variety, were so large—a full inch tall—that I had to buy a new cherry pitter to fit them. Their firm texture and mild sweetness made them excellent for fresh eating, but their flavor was too muted for the jam, chutney, and other sorts of preserves I tried them in. A thirty-five-dollar bottle of Cointreau, however, dolled them up beautifully.

Serve the preserved cherries straight from the jar over ice cream, or use them to make the famous Victorian dessert called Cherries Jubilee. For that, you reheat the cherries and their syrup—at the table in a chafing dish, if you have one—while you spoon vanilla ice cream into small dishes. Then you pour warmed brandy or Kirschwasser over the cherries (1/4 cup to a pint of cherries) and, using a long match, set the liquor alight. Spoon the flaming sauce over the ice cream, and serve.

cherries jubilee 3Cherries in Cointreau

2 pounds dark sweet cherries, pitted
1 cup sugar
2 long strips of orange peel, removed with a vegetable peeler
¼ cup orange juice
About 1 cup Cointreau (or other orange-flavored liqueur)

Put the cherries, sugar, and orange peel into a large skillet, and pour the orange juice over. Heat the mixture over medium-low heat, shaking the pan or stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Continue to heat the mixture for several minutes, stirring occasionally, until the syrup has begun to simmer and the cherries are heated through and just beginning to soften. Remove the pan from the heat.

With a slotted spoon, transfer the cherries to two pint mason jars, leaving ½ inch headspace. Either discard the orange peel or, if you prefer, add it to the jars. Pour the syrup over the cherries, dividing it equally between the two jars. Top the jars with Cointreau, maintaining the ½ inch headspace.

Add two-piece caps, and process the jars in a boiling-water or steam canner for 15 minutes. Let the jars cool in the canner for 5 minutes before removing them. Store the cooled jars in a cool, dark, dry place.

Makes 2 pints

 

USDA Approves Steam Canners

Many home preservers love steam canners (such as the Victorio), because they use less water and less energy and take less time to preheat than boiling-water canners. For at least two decades, however, the USDA and its Extension employees have warned that steam canners may be dangerous. This has kept a lot of people from buying steam canners and has made the people who swear by the devices at least a tad nervous.

A 2003 position paper published by Oregon State University detailed the concerns: Cold spots might occur between the jars or under the dome; steam might lift the lid of the canner, which would allow cold air to enter; jars might break or heat unevenly; the user might mistake cool vapor for steam and so might underprocess the jars; the user might be burned by steam.

The fears of breaking jars and uneven heating always seemed bogus to me. The supposed problem was that the jars weren’t separated by a rack. Racks that come in boiling-water canners are usually divided into sections, one per jar, but many people do their boiling-water processing with unsectioned cake racks or pressure-canner racks or even with towels instead of racks. Most home preservers know better than to jam their jars tightly together in a canner.

I’ve never used a steam canner myself, but I’m pretty sure that the vent holes in the side must keep the lid from lifting off like an umbrella in the wind.

Steam burns seem like a true risk with steam canners, but you get a faceful of steam if you’re careless in opening a boiling-water canner, too.

Now Dr. Barbara Ingham, of the University Wisconsin-Madison, has actually done some research on steam canners, and she has found they work pretty well. She has convinced the National Center for Home Food Preservation, the USDA division that oversees home canning, to approve the use of steam canners.

Dr. Ingham, however, identified one important limitation of steam canners: They hold too little water to allow for processing times of more than 45 minutes. This presents no problem for pickles and jams, but the USDA recommends processing tomatoes for long periods, from 35 to 85 minutes (or even longer at high altitudes), depending on how the tomatoes are prepared. You could use a steam canner for tomato sauce or juice, but a boiling-water canner or even a pressure canner is probably a better choice. If the boiling is too vigorous in a steam canner, Dr. Ingham found, the pan can boil dry in twenty minutes.

Dr. Ingham suggests some guidelines to follow with steam canners:

  • Use USDA recipes; don’t rely on the instructions that come with the canner.
  • Fill the jars with hot liquid, and put them into the canner while they are still hot.
  • Make sure that a 6- to 8-inch jet of steam streams from the vent holes throughout the processing period.
  • If possible, check the temperature of the steam—it should measure 212 degrees F—by inserting a thermometer through a vent hole. (Actually, if you live above sea level the temperature will be somewhat lower.)
  • If you’re canning at an altitude of 1,000 feet or higher, you should process your jars longer, just as you would in a boiling-water bath.
  • Let the jars cool at room temperature, as usual.

According to Jeanne Brandt, Family and Community Health director for Oregon State University Extension, OSU still doesn’t like steam canners. But I think I might give one a try.

 

Olive-Oil Pickles: Q&A

Before the routine use of mason jars or even paraffin in the home kitchen, olive oil was often used, in America as well as Europe, to seal air out of jars of vinegar-pickled vegetables. When you’re canning pickles in the modern way today, oil might seem a superfluous addition—if it didn’t make the vegetables look and taste so good after they’re drawn, unctuously gleaming, from the jar.

Once you’ve pried off the lid and stored the jar in the fridge, though, the oil can partially or totally solidify. That doesn’t make for such a pretty pickle. Here’s how Matt, one reader of The Joy of Pickling, encountered this problem: 

I’m a beginner to this experience, and have made a few pickle recipes from your Joy book. I have a question relating to a recipe I did of the olive oil pickles (page 98). I did as instructed, and opened around 4 weeks after pantry storage. They tasted amazing! After about a week in the fridge, however, the opened jar formed small, white beads at the top. They vary in diameter, but all quite smaller than the mustard seeds.  

The unopened ones do not exhibit this, and I am concerned that there is something wrong. Perhaps this is some congealing of ingredients, but I wanted to see if you’ve encountered similar results. I haven’t eaten them since they’ve been in the fridge (e.g., formed the beads), so am only hoping that the refrigeration is the factor here, and that they are safe to eat.

And here are two photos that Matt sent me:

congealed olive oilcongealed olive oil 2

Sometimes chilled olive oil forms a solid whitish mass; other times it solidifies only partially. The “beads” Matt saw are solidified oil droplets.

The solution to this problem is simple: Take the jar out of the refrigerator a little before serving time, and let the oil melt in the warmer air outside the fridge. In Matt’s case the oil had only slightly solidified, so the melting probably took only ten minutes or so.

There’s something else to remember about oiled pickles: Oil on the rim of the jar or on the lid’s sealing compound can prevent a good seal. So be sure to leave adequate headspace in the jar, wipe any oil off the rim with a paper towel or clean cloth dampened with vinegar before placing the lid on top, and avoid tipping the jars or boiling the water hard during processing.

Another Red Watermelon Pickle

Gwen's watermelon pickleI was pleased to find outside the front door yesterday a package from Gwen Schock Cowherd, my cherished advisor on all foods German-from-Russia. Gwen had sent a jar of her prize-winning unfermented watermelon pickles, made in the tradition of Midwestern prairie dwellers whose German ancestors once lived beside the Black Sea in Russia.

Gwen's watermelon pickle 2Gwen’s fresh-pickled watermelon tastes much like mine, but with a strong, fresh dilliness and a striking, appealing saltiness. I especially like the bit of crunch provided by the sliver of white rind showing on one edge of each watermelon piece. And notice how pretty Gwen’s pickle jar looks, with the dill heads and the sliced green pepper.

Gwen kindly sent me her recipe to share with you:

Gwen’s Watermelon Pickles

BRINE:
12 cups water
2½ cups sugar
2½ cups white vinegar
¾ cup salt
1 ounce Schilling pickling spice mix

Bring all ingredients to a boil. Simmer for a couple of hours, covered. Stir occasionally to distribute the flavor of the spices. 

1 large seedless watermelon, any variety (better underripe than overripe)
2 small heads fresh dill per jar
1 slivered garlic cove per jar
1 small dried red pepper per jar (optional)
1 or 2 thin green pepper slices per jar 

Peel the watermelon, leaving a thin amount of white rind. Cut the watermelon into 1-by-1/2-inch chunks. Try to leave some white rind on each chunk; this will help to keep it from disintegrating. Drain the chunks in colanders for several hours—overnight is best. 

Pour off the watermelon juice. If you want to use the juice in your brine, that is OK. 

Into each sterilized quart jar, put a dill head, and add watermelon to fill half the jar. Shake the jar so the pieces settle. Then add one small dried red pepper (if you like your pickles hot) and half the garlic slivers. Distribute the garlic among the watermelon chunks. Add more watermelon chunks, again shaking the jar so they settle. Add the strip(s) of green pepper and the rest of the garlic slivers, distributing them in the jar. Put another dill head at the top of the jar. 

Pour the brine, boiling and strained, into the jars. (Save the extra brine for another batch. It will keep in the refrigerator indefinitely.) Add lids and rings, and put the jars in a hot water bath. Bring the water to a boil, and boil it for 5 minutes, no longer. 

Remove the jars from the bath and let them cool undisturbed for several hours. Check to see that they are sealed. Store them in a cool place. 

Makes 7 quarts

Gwen says her pickles improve with age. As you can see in the picture, the ones she sent me were made in 2012. Keep in mind, though, that she stores her sealed jars in an especially cool place: a refrigerator reserved just for pickles.

As the fermentation fad spreads, some people are saying that pickles aren’t true pickles unless the solids as well as the liquid components have been fermented. Gwen’s unfermented watermelon pickles, and my slightly sweeter ones, are very different from brine-pickled watermelon, and if you try all three recipes you may well prefer one over another. But I can’t predict which you’ll like best. All of them are real pickles, and all of them are really good.

A Better Boiling-Water Canner?

tamale steamer cum canner
An aluminum tamale steamer serves as a rust-free, extra-tall canner.

I’ve always hated my graniteware canner. You know what I mean—one of those big, lightweight, speckled black pots with the cheap chromed rack inside. My rack rusted out in the first year of use. After I replaced it I noticed the pot itself was rusting, too, as the thin enamel coating flaked off the steel in spots. My jars always came of the pot covered with metallic scum. I couldn’t use the pot for sterilizing empty jars, or the scum would end up all over the interior of the jars. Worst of all, the canner wasn’t quite tall enough for quart jars. I couldn’t cover them with even a half-inch of water (the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends submerging jars by 1 to 2 inches) without the water boiling over and putting out the stove flame.

My graniteware canner is old, I admit—about thirty years old, I’d guess. But canners of this type haven’t improved. The 21- to 21.5-quart models—intended to hold seven quart jars—are still only 9.75 to 10 inches tall. If the specs give a greater height, the manufacturer is probably measuring from the base of the pot to the top of the lid handle.

Although I haven’t thrown out my rusty old canner, it has sat undisturbed in the garage for many years. For boiling-water canning I mostly use my two stainless-steel stockpots, along with the stainless-steel racks that I bought to fit each of them. This setup works perfectly for processing pint and half-pint jars.

But even the taller stockpot is too short for quart jars. So for canning tomatoes, fruits, and juices I’ve substituted my old pressure canner, with the lid left loose. This isn’t the best solution, though, because the thick aluminum wall of the pot takes a long time to transfer heat.

That’s why I started looking longingly at the tamale steamers in the grocery store. These aluminum pots are heavy enough to be sturdy, but light enough to heat up quickly. They come in various sizes: 12, 20, 32, and 50 quarts. Each pot has an indentation around the side, two inches or so from the base, to support a perforated rack. I figured that one of the bigger pots ought to make a good canner.

And so I bought the second-largest size, 32 quarts, and tried it out with quart jars of quince juice. The interior diameter of this pot measures only 14.5 inches, compared to the 15.75-inch width of my graniteware canner, yet seven quart jars fit roomily in the tamale steamer. I could even fit in an eighth jar while retaining at least a quarter-inch of space between the jars.

Even with its raised rack, the tamale steamer is plenty tall—13.5 inches. I can cover my quart jars with 2 inches of water and not worry at all about a boilover. With this pot, I can properly submerge even 1-liter Weck juice bottles.

One problem with the steamer is that it’s made for steaming, not boiling. The rack rests so high that you need about 6.5 quarts of water just to reach its level. All of that water takes a long time to heat. This might not be a concern when you are canning all day long, but heating so much water for a single batch seems wasteful

The solution is easy, though: Next time I process quart jars I’ll take out the raised rack and set a smaller one, probably borrowed from my pressure canner, in the bottom of the tamale steamer. With such an adjustment, the 13-inch-tall 20-quart steamer would be adequate for processing quart jars. In fact, the 20-quart steamer might even be tall enough for quart jars even with the raised rack in place.

Aluminum tamale steamers aren’t expensive. I paid $25 for the 32-quart pot. In comparison, graniteware canners range in price from about $20 to about $40.

So, consider treating yourself soon to a superior boiling-water canner—and treating your friends and family to a big Christmas tamale party.

Clear Juice from Cherry Tomatoes

Clear tomato juice, after the small amount of solids has settled to the bottom of the jar

What do you do with a glut of cherry tomatoes? Small, sweet, tart, juicy tomatoes—whether shaped like cherries, grapes, or plums—are the best varieties for snacking. You can halve them and add them to salads, pile them into kids’ lunch boxes, and sauté or roast them for a sauce or relish.

But . . . what then? If you have more than one cherry tomato plant in your garden, you probably have more tangy little fruits than your household can eat right away. You need to give them away or let them rot.

Or you can preserve them. Here’s what I do: I get out my steam juicer, run water into the bottom section, fill the top section with stemmed tomatoes, put on the lid, and turn on the gas.

In less than an hour, the mid-section of the juicer has filled with clear, golden tomato juice. It’s what chefs call tomato water—an inadequate name, in my opinion, for such rich-flavored, velvet-textured juice. It’s nothing like what’s usually called tomato juice. That misnamed stuff is in fact unreduced tomato purée.

The stainless steel steam juicer, dismantled

There are other ways to make clear tomato juice, but using the steam juicer is by far the easiest. The juicer works like a stovetop espresso pot. The water in the bottom section boils, producing steam, which rises into the conical center of the midsection. Through holes in the flattened top of the cone, the steam rises into the perforated basket above. The fruit in the basket bursts in the steam and releases its juice, which drip through the holes into the midsection of the steam juicer. From there, I draw off the juice through a flexible tube.

I start drawing off juice about twenty minute into the steaming, straight into quart mason jars. The basket of fruit you see here rendered five quarts of juice.

 

The basket of tomatoes (with two small stalks of celery added for flavoring) as steam begins to rise
The spent tomatoes, after steaming

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has no recommendations for processing clear tomato juice, but because this juice is both thinner and more acidic than unreduced purée, you can feel perfectly safe using the processing time for what the USDA calls tomato juice: 15 minutes for pints or quarts in a pressure canner, 35 minutes for pints in a boiling-water bath, and 40 minutes for quarts in a boiling-water bath (times increase at altitudes of more than 1,000 feet).

You could press what’s left in the basket through a food mill or strainer to make tomato paste or leather. I usually prefer to toss the spent tomatoes to the chickens.

What do you do with the jars of clear tomato juice in your pantry? The juice can often stand in for meat stock in soups and stews. Even if you hate the texture of tomato purée, you may love to drink this juice cold—maybe even mixed with beer, as we tried one day, at a student’s suggestion, at the Culinary Center in Lincoln City. I especially recommend clear tomato juice for hot or cold consommé, as in my recipe that follows.

When you open a jar of tomato juice that you intend to use for consommé, pour carefully to leave behind the small amount of solids that will have settled at the bottom, or else strain the juice through muslin.

Tomato Consommé with Shrimp and Cucumber
From Cold Soups, by Linda Ziedrich

Besides calling for a quart of clear tomato juice, this recipe provides a use for a few more fresh cherry tomatoes.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 celery stalk
1 cup dry white wine
1 quart clear tomato juice
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon arrowroot
1 tablespoon water
½ pound cooked small shrimp
1 salad cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced
8 to 10 cherry tomatoes, halved

In a heavy pot, heat the olive oil. Add the onion, carrot, and celery, and sauté them about 5 minutes. Add the wine and tomato juice, and bring the mixture to a simmer. Simmer the mixture about 20 minutes, and then strain the liquid into a saucepan. Add salt and pepper.

In a small bowl or cup, stir together the arrowroot and water. Place the saucepan over medium-high heat, and stir in the arrowroot paste. Simmer the consommé, stirring, for 2 minutes, until it is glossy and thickened. Let the consommé cool. Skim off any scum that forms.

Put the shrimp and cucumbers into a wide serving bowl. Pour the consommé over them. Chill the soup thoroughly.

Serve the soup garnished with cherry tomatoes and celery leaves.

Baked Rhubarb-Rose Preserves

Thanks to yet another cool, damp June—the new normal for our region?—the moss rose outside my kitchen window has been putting on a lovely show for the past several weeks. I’m never satisfied just looking at the pillowy pink flowers, burst from inconceivably slender mossy buds, and inhaling their delicious scent. I have to eat them, too.

So a couple of weeks ago I put up several pints of strawberry-rose jam and thought, What next? My rhubarb plants had been drinking up the rain and growing monstrous. Last year I combined roses and rhubarb with strawberries in a heavenly jam. Now I wondered how rhubarb and roses would work as a duo.

I considered a recipe I’d jotted down from Margaret Rudkin’s old Pepperidge Farm Cookbook. All my life I’ve been eating rhubarb sauce made on the stovetop. Sauce is the right word for the stuff, because rhubarb breaks down with brief boiling to a greenish, reddish, fibrous mush. As a child I loved this springtime alternative to applesauce. But rhubarb sauce, as I’d always known it, was ugly.

Margaret cooked her rhubarb in the oven, she wrote, and the pieces stayed handsomely intact. With the addition of pink or red roses, maybe I could both improve the color of the rhubarb and make the flavor more interesting. And why not can the result to enjoy months later?

So I created the recipe that follows. The roses intensify the red of the rhubarb without disguising the green, and the rosy scent balances the sour and sweet tastes. Served on pound cake or sponge cake, baked rhubarb with rose petals looks nearly as elegant as it tastes and smells.

Baked Rhubarb-Rose Preserves

2 pounds rhubarb stalks, cut into 1-inch lengths
1 cup sugar
2 ounces pink or red fragrant rose petals, their bases clipped, if they’re thick

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Combine the rhubarb pieces and sugar in a baking dish, and put the dish into the hot oven.

After 30 minutes, add the rose petals, and turn the mixture gently. Bake about 15 minutes more, until the rhubarb is tender but still intact. Spoon the mixture into hot mason jars, leaving ½ inch headspace. Be sure to run a chopstick or plastic stick around the inner surface of the jar to free trapped air. Process the jars in a boiling-water bath for 15 minutes.

 

Rice Vinegar for Home Canning

Tom Reynolds, director of food service and industrial marketing for Marukan, wants to sell the company’s rice vinegar to home canners. Apparently he has a ready market; more than three hundred home canners “liked” Marukan rice vinegar on the company’s Facebook page, Tom told me. “They prefer the flavor of our rice vinegar,” he said, “to that of white or apple cider vinegars for delicate vegetables, herbs, chutneys, salsas, pickles, etc.”

A lot of cooks find that rice vinegar has a milder flavor than either cider vinegar or distilled vinegar. This shouldn’t be surprising, because the rice vinegar sold in stores contains less of the main component of all vinegar, acetic acid. Formulated for making sushi, Marukan rice vinegar has an acetic acid level of 4.3 percent. Other Japanese-style rice vinegars have acid levels as low as 4.0 percent.* In the United States, distilled and cider vinegars are always sold at 5.0 percent acidity. Wine vinegar has acid levels as high as 7.0.

The milder flavor of rice vinegar may result not only from its lower acidity but also from its balanced complexity. This complexity may stem from its biologically complicated manufacture: Aspergillus oryzae, a kind of mold, is added to steamed rice and water to convert the starch in the rice to sugar. As in wine and beer making, sugar-loving yeast in the genus Saccharomyces converts the sugar to alcohol. The product is sake, but this sake isn’t for drinking. Over a period of thirty days, in the traditional method to which Marukan adheres, Acetobacter bacteria turn the sake to vinegar. Through this carefully controlled process, rice vinegar ends up containing not only acetic acid but also amino acids, citric acid, and other minor components.

Tom Reynolds knew that USDA pickling recipes, and other pickling recipes written to USDA standards, called for 5.0-percent vinegar. He wondered if Marukan should produce 5.0-percent rice vinegar specifically for home canners. To explore this possibility, he sent sample gallons of 5.0-percent rice vinegar to me and a few other people who write about pickling.

My package arrived in February, when I had little garden produce to work with. I decided to make canned pickled carrots, one jar each with distilled vinegar, 5.0-percent white wine vinegar (Four Monks brand), and 5.0-percent Marukan rice vinegar.

In my experiments for The Joy of Pickling I had used carrots only in refrigerator and freezer pickles. I’d been so repelled by the USDA recipe for canned pickle carrots, which calls for one part water to two parts sugar and five and a half parts distilled vinegar, that I hadn’t even tried it. But if rice vinegar really tastes so mild, I now figured, perhaps it could make a tolerable pickle with such a slight dilution as the USDA allowed. And I could cut the shocking amount of sugar in the USDA recipe; as Extension agents explain, the purpose of the sugar in such recipes isn’t to ensure safety but to balance the sharpness of the vinegar.

I made a few other alternations to the USDA recipe. The half-inch carrot chunks called for looked silly to me–too small for finger food and too big for relish–so I sliced the carrots ¼ inch thick. The mustard and celery seed in the recipe might overwhelm the flavor of the vinegar, so I decided to use just a little ginger and hot pepper instead. Boiling the pickling liquid for three minutes before adding the carrots seemed pointless, so I didn’t do it.

This, then, was my recipe:

Canned Carrots Pickled in 5.0-percent Rice Vinegar (by the pint)

 1¼ cup 5.0-percent vinegar
¼ cup water
¼ cup sugar
½ teaspoon pickling salt
1 pinch pepper flakes
1 quarter-size slice fresh ginger
11 ounces peeled and trimmed carrots, sliced crosswise ¼ inch thick

In a small saucepan, combine the vinegar, water, sugar, and salt. Bring the liquid to a boil, and immediately add the carrots. Simmer them for 5 minutes, uncovered. While the carrots simmer, put the pepper flakes and ginger into a clean pint mason jar.

Add the carrots to the jar, leaving ½ inch headspace. Pour the hot liquid over, maintaining the ½ inch headspace. Screw on a two-piece cap, and process the jar for 15 minutes in a boiling-water bath.

A couple of weeks later, during a family party, I put some of the carrots into bowls for a blind tasting. Here’s what my tasters concluded: The distilled vinegar seemed to heighten both the sweetness of the sugar and the heat of the pepper and ginger. The wine vinegar contributed a little fruitiness and covered up some of the carrot flavor. The rice vinegar tasted most mild. With a slightly earthy note, it let the flavor of the carrots shine through. The pickles in all three jars were tasty, but the carrots in rice vinegar were just a bit more to everyone’s liking.

I reported to Tom that a motley assortment of my relatives had joined his rice-vinegar fan club. Now, when would that 5.0-percent rice vinegar be available in stores? Probably not any time soon, Tom said; assuming that stores would want to carry it, the vinegar couldn’t be economically priced at less than ten dollars per gallon. If it were sold by mail order, the price might be as high as twenty dollars per gallon.

As Tom had considered, though, nearly all the USDA pickle recipes call for diluting 5.0-percent vinegar with water. So, why couldn’t you convert the quantities to use 4.3-percent vinegar? This was a matter of simple arithmetic, I said. For those with rusty sixth-grade math skills, Marukan could provide recipes for canned pickles using 4.3-percent rice vinegar.

Realizing that I’m rusty with my sixth-grade grade math skills, I turned to the guy I call Doctor Science. He came up with these rules for converting a recipe using 5.0-percent vinegar to one using 4.3-percent vinegar:

● Multiply the volume of 5-percent vinegar in the original recipe by 1.16 (because 5.0 divided by 4.3 equals 1.1627906). The result is the volume of 4.3-percent vinegar in your revised recipe.

● Subtract the volume of 5-percent vinegar in the original recipe from the volume of 4.3-percent vinegar in your revised recipe. Reduce the volume of water in the revised recipe by this amount.

Here’s the pickled-carrot recipe revised for a bigger batch using 4.3-percent vinegar. Because I had liquid left over in the single-jar recipe, I increased the liquid volume four times but the weight of the carrots five times, for a yield of five pints.

Canned Carrots Pickled in 4.3-percent Rice Vinegar (to make 5 pints)

If you like a lot of ginger and chile, increase their amounts. Or use different spices, if you prefer. And consider cutting the carrots into sticks or diagonal pieces rather than rounds.

5 ¾ cups 4.3-percent vinegar
1/4 cup water
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons pickling salt
5 pinches pepper flakes
5 quarter-size slices fresh ginger
3 1/2 pounds peeled and trimmed carrots, sliced crosswise ¼ inch thick

In a small saucepan, combine the vinegar, water, sugar, and salt. Bring the liquid to a boil, and immediately add the carrots. Simmer them for 5 minutes, uncovered. While the carrots simmer, put the pepper flakes and ginger into five clean pint mason jars.

Add the carrots to the jars, leaving ½ inch headspace. Pour the hot liquid over, maintaining the ½ inch headspace. Screw on two-piece caps, and process the jars for 15 minutes in a boiling-water bath.

A final note: When you’re buying rice vinegar for pickling, make sure that it’s unseasoned. Rice vinegar is often sold with sugar and salt added, in the proportions that the manufacturer considers appropriate for sushi rice. In some supermarkets the only rice vinegar available is the seasoned kind. Even if you’re buying rice vinegar for sushi, you may prefer to season it to suit your own taste.

*Beware: Some “Japanese rice vinegar” is actually made in China. This labeling isn’t entirely dishonest; Chinese rice vinegar is traditionally red or black, not clear. Marukan has been making its rice vinegar in Japan since 1649. For the American market, the company has made vinegar in California, from U.S. grown rice, since 1975.

Innovations in Canning Tools

A company called Progressive is about to release to the market a set of five new tools for home canners, and I’ve had an early opportunity to try them out. Here’s what I’ve found.

The stainless-steel wire jar rack, 10½ inches in diameter, has petal-like loops that flare upward from the center, to 1/2 inch above the base. The rack holds seven pint or half-pint standard mason jars, narrow- or wide-mouth, more securely than has any other wire rack I’ve used. Here you see the rack in my 16-quart stockpot with jars of various sizes. Flip the rack over, and it will hold four standard quart jars.

The peculiar shape of the red and white plastic ladle allows you to scoop nearly all of a batch of hot jam quickly into jars instead of having to pour and scrape it from the pot when you’ve given up on your round-bottomed ladle. One scoop fills a half-pint jar. Although the plastic looks as if it would melt in a dishwasher, Progressive says it will stand heat of 400 degrees Fahrenheit. The ladle suffered no harm, in fact, when I used it to stir a pot of hot chili on the stove. The ladle has both a hook for hanging from the side of a pot and a loop for hanging from a rack.

The plastic funnel is made up of two parts, an inner red part that fits into the mouth of a mason jar and an outer white part marked in fractions of an inch for measuring headspace. This works well for liquids, but to see clearly whether vegetable or fruit pieces are floating up into the headspace you’ll still have to look into the top of the jar.

Because the white part of the funnel extends lower than the red part, you can set the funnel on a dirty counter without contaminating the part that will enter your jars. The handle on the side makes the funnel extra bulky, but it helps keep fingers out of the interior, and you can hang the funnel by the handle, if you like, instead of stuffing it in a drawer. (The pickle pictured here, by the way, is cauliflower colored by red cabbage. I don’t actually process this pickle or heat any of the ingredients.)

The jar lifter is the only one of these tools that doesn’t strike me as special. Its spring-loaded hinges keep the lifter open until you grasp the top, and this feature is supposed to make the lifter easy to use one-handed. But I’ve never had any trouble using my thirty-some-year-old jar lifter with one hand. I like my old jar lifter better, in fact, because it takes up less room in a drawer.

The magnetized lid lifter has a swollen rim that makes it easy to release a lid with one hand. Just turn the handle downward, and the magnet comes free, leaving the lid in place. The lid lifter has a loop at the top so you can hang it—a good idea, because no lid lifter is worth bothering with if you can’t find it quickly. (Keep in mind that this writer has fingers of asbestos.)

Although I don’t care for the plasticky look of these tools (excepting the stainless rack), I admire their clever designs, which originate in Progressive’s offices in Kent, Washington. But Progressive tools, sadly, are manufactured in China. If only the company would live up to its name by moving the factory to the USA! I’d pay more for American-made canning tools; wouldn’t you?