Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Preserving Summer Flavours

In my neck of the woods, the summer season is a mysterious creature that provides an enormous bounty of food over a very short period of time. While I'm busy getting over the shock of the flavour explosion contained in a handful of blueberries, brightly coloured stalks of rainbow swiss chard, and heirloom varieties of tomatoes, the summer quietly slips away and suddenly I'm wearing hoodies to keep warm again. Thankfully that's still a few months away this year, but before it happens, some canning and preserving is in order.

Back in June I attended a workshop put on by Young Urban Farmers CSA and facilitated by chef, food activist, and writer Joshna Maharaj. I'd like to share the recipes we used to save summer flavours for the long winter months ahead. The benefits go beyond merely enjoying great tasting food when nothing is growing outside; by doing your own canning, you avoid purchasing products at the supermarket, which means...
  • you decide exactly what goes into the preserve, and more importantly what doesn't
  • you can use local ingredients from the farmers' market, your backyard garden, your CSA share, or another source of food grown close to home
  • you take back control of your food - let's be honest, canning is a skill everyone should know!

Let's start at the very beginning of the growing season with asparagus.

Pickled Asparagus

Makes 2 x 500ml jars


30 asparagus spears
1/3 cup coarse salt
2 quarts cold water
1 2/3 cups white vinegar
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon mustard seed
1 1/2 teaspoons dill seed
1 white onion, sliced into rings
1/2 teaspoon chili pepper flakes
2 sprigs fresh dill


1. Trim the cut end of the asparagus spears and cut them into 3" lengths. Place them in a large bowl with 1/3 cup salt and cover with water. Let stand for 2 hours. Drain and rinse under cool water and pat dry.

2. Sterilize two pint-sized wide mouth jars in simmering water for 5 minutes. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the vinegar, sugar, 1 tsp of salt, mustard seeds, dill seeds, and onion rings. Bring to a boil, and boil for one minute.

3. Pack the asparagus spears, tips up, in the hot jars, leaving 1/2" of space below the neck. Tuck one dill sprig into each jar and sprinkle in 1/4 tsp of red pepper flakes. Pour hot pickling liquid into the jars, filling to within 1/4" of the neck. Wipe rims with a clean damp cloth, and seal with lids. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

4. Cool to room temperature. Check seals when cool by pressing the centre of the lid. They should not move. Label and date; store in a cool dark place. If any jars have not sealed properly, refrigerate and eat within two weeks.

Moving ahead a few weeks past asparagus season, strawberries begin to emerge in the fields.

Strawberry Freezer Jam

Makes 5 x 500ml jars


10 cups strawberries, hulled, washed, and chopped into quarters
2 cups granulated sugar
2 packages (45g each) freezer jam pectin


1. Sterilize 5 x 500ml preserving jars and lids and set aside. Place strawberries in a bowl and mash well, until berries are pulpy and liquidy.

2. Add sugar and pectin and stir well for 2-3 minutes to dissolve in strawberry mixture. Taste and adjust sweetness if necessary. Allow to sit for 5 minutes or so to make sure that pectin and sugar are completely dissolved and incorporated.

3. Fill bottles to just below the neck with jam, cover, and freeze for up to 8 months. Once jam has been thawed, you can store it in the fridge for up to 2 months.

Chinese napa cabbage, grown commercially on a limited scale in southern Ontario, is available continuously through the season. Why not make kimchi with it?

Classic Napa Kimchi

Makes 4 x 1-litre jars


1 cup + 1 tbsp coarse sea salt or kosher salt
2 litres of water
2 heads Napa cabbage, cut into 2” wedges
1 bulb garlic, cloves separated and peeled
1 x 2” piece of ginger root, peeled
1/4 cup fish sauce or Korean salted shrimp
1 small daikon, peeled and grated
1 bunch of green onions, cut into 1” lengths
1/2 cup Korean chili powder
1 tsp sugar (optional)


1. Dissolve 1 cup salt in 2 litres of water. Soak cabbage in the salt water for 3 to 4 hours.

2. Combine garlic, ginger, and fish sauce or shrimp in food processor until finely minced.

3. In large bowl, combine radish, green onions, garlic mixture, chili powder, 1 tbsp salt and optional sugar. Toss gently but thoroughly. (If mixing with your hands, be sure to wear rubber gloves to avoid chili burn.)

4. Remove cabbage from water and rinse thoroughly. Drain cabbage in colander, squeezing as much water from the leaves as possible. Stuff radish mixture between cabbage leaves, working from the outside in, starting with the largest leaves to the smallest. Do not overstuff, but make sure radish mixture adequately fills leaves. When entire cabbage is stuffed, take one of the larger leaves and wrap tightly around the rest of the cabbage. Divide cabbage among 4 x 1-litre jars, pressing down firmly to remove any air bubbles.

5. Let sit for 2 to 3 weeks in a cool place before serving. Remove kimchi from jar and slice into 1" pieces. Refrigerate after opening.

Carrots and pears honour us with their presence in late summer. Bet you didn't think they went together!

Carrot Jam

Makes 4 x 250ml jars


1 1/2 cups carrots, grated using a food processor
2 cups pears, peeled and chopped finely
1 3/4 cups canned pineapple with juice
3 tbsp lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cloves in a cheesecloth sack
1 package pectin
6 1/2 cups of sugar


1. Boil everything but the sugar and pectin for 20 minutes. Add pectin off heat and return to a boil.

2. Add sugar, stir, and bring to a hard boil for 60 seconds.

3. Can in 4 x 250ml jars, process for 10 minutes.

Look at what we made in less than three hours!

What's being preserved in your kitchen this year?


  1. The Young Urban Farmers sounds like an awesome organization. This week I will be making local cherry-rhubarb jam and will be picking huckleberries and sour cherries to store in the freezer. Already in the freezer, I have local strawberries, raspberries, and rhubarb, as well as zucchini, beet greens, and parsley from my garden. Later this Fall, I will be storing garden cabbage as fermented sauerkraut and I think I may try making kimchi for the first time. I love the pear-carrot jam idea, but pears do not grow in my area. Do you think apples could be used instead of pears?

  2. Hi Emily! Cherry-rhubarb jam sounds delicious. How do you prepare your parsley for freezing? Mine always ends up too soggy when I thaw it.

    Can you share your sauerkraut recipe? I'd love to try making my own. And yes, you can use apples instead of pears in the carrot jam recipe; both contain lots of pectin.

  3. To freeze fresh parsley, I chop it finely, pack it into an empty ice cube tray, cover it with water, and freeze. Then I store the parsley ice cubes in a freezer bag. I've only used the parsley in hot meals, such as chicken soup and pasta sauce. I just plop a few ice cubes into the pot. I'm not sure what happens when the parsley is thawed and used "fresh."

    Homemade sauerkraut is delicious. I shared the recipe on my blog: http://livinglightlyinawaveringworld.blogspot.com/2011/01/homemade-fermented-sauerkraut.html

  4. Ah, good trick with the ice cube tray! My problem is trying to use frozen parsley for applications that are more dry, where even an ice cube's worth of water would dilute the flavour. Hm...

    Thanks for linking to the sauerkraut recipe!

  5. Your photos are gorgeous! I'm very impressed by all that you've preserved this season. I've only worked on blueberries so far-which was pretty simple!

  6. Thanks, but it's easy to take gorgeous photos when your subject is food! :)

    Blueberries are a good start. There's nothing worse than running out of frozen fruit in the middle of winter.

  7. I'm totally going to try canning this summer. I used to think canning was scary (I guess things CAN go seriously wrong with pressure canning), but now I see no reason why I shouldn't start making my own pasta sauces using summer ripe tomatoes. It takes me forever to use up a jar of jam, so I'm putting that on hold until I've finished my current supply -- probably will last until next summer!

  8. It should go without saying... you'll blog about your canning adventures, right? :)
    Yesterday at a community foodie event I overheard someone saying they were growing 26 tomato plants this summer and expect that all of the currently green tomatoes will go red all at once, overnight, and they won't know what to do with them. I wanted to take this person by the shoulders, shake them, and say "make tomato sauce" over and over until they agreed. Well, I may not be invited back to such events if I did that, but you get the sentiment. To open a can of tomato sauce in the middle of winter and taste summer (and your own hard work) is priceless. Go for it, and good luck.

  9. Wow, you did a lot! I have done strawberries, nanking cherries, and saskatoons so far. I have also picked and blanched and froze peas, and froze lots of raspberries and strawberries. Next up - canning peaches! I am learning as I go along. I hope I get enough tomatoes to can, if not I will supplement with some local fare. The goal is to stock the pantry for winter.

  10. That's great, Sherry! By the end of the summer you'll have filled your pantry. Please blog about your peach canning experience. Here in Ontario there are no more canneries, so when I shop for canned peaches in the winter, the peaches come from China - despite the fact that we have so many peaches in southern Ontario at this time of year. It's a crying shame.

  11. Fantastic post Andrea. What a beautiful collection of preserves! I am interested in the Napa Kimchi...sounds delicious. We are a big pickle family. Pickled beans, cucumbers, peppers etc., This year I want to make my own tomato sauce. My Italian neighbours are going to show me how it is done. :)

  12. Hi Laura! Definitely give the kimchi a try if you're a fan of spicy food. I like having it with all sorts of meals, even if they're not Korean. You're so lucky to have Italian neighbours willing to share their tomato sauce recipe with you! Please show us the results on your blog.