Surplus fruits and vegetables can be canned for later.

It seems to me that the reason that so many of the kids I grew up with do not like apricots is that they were so common when we were younger. Because there were still several abandoned orchards, and most of us had at least one apricot tree in our backyards, we ate apricots in every form imaginable; fresh, dried, in pies, in cobblers, as jams, as apricot nectar (juice) and of course, canned. By the time we grew up and moved on, we were done with apricots.

Apricots happen to be one of the many ‘high-acid’ fruits that are remarkably easy to preserve by canning, which is how and why they are available as jams and canned apricots at any time of the year. In fact, almost all of the fruits that were so commonly grown in the vast orchards of the Santa Clara Valley, like prunes, plums, cherries, nectarines, peaches, apples and pears, are also high-acid fruits that are relatively easy to can in various forms. ‘Low-acid’ vegetables, like broccoli, corn, pumpkin (squash), spinach and beets, as well as meat and poultry, were not so commonly canned only because they take considerably more work to can with the use of a pressure cooker (in order to achieve higher temperatures).

Because home canning can potentially be dangerous if done improperly, it is best to learn something about it first. This is why the Guadalupe River Park Conservancy has arranged for UC Master Preserver Susan Algert to conduct the workshop ‘Safe Methods for Food Preservation and Canning’. Participants will learn the importance of canning to kill toxic pathogens, and why high-acid produce gets canned in a hot water bath while low-acid foods need to be canned in a pressure cooker. Canning is an alternative to freezing for preserving overly abundant produce from the garden.

(Outdated information regarding classes has been omitted from this recycled article.)


Pumpkins After Halloween

Jack o’ lanterns and pumpkins will soon meet their gory demise now that Halloween is over.

Pumpkins are both the biggest of the common fruits, and also the most wasted. So many of us bring at least one into our homes for Halloween, only to discard them afterward. Not many of us actually bake or make pies from ‘used’ pumpkins. However, those of us who like to can or freeze fruit and vegetables can really take advantage of this tradition by politely collecting jack o’ lanterns from neighbors, or getting unsold pumpkins from markets for very minimal expense. (Pumpkins are ‘low acid’ fruits that need to be canned with a pressure cooker.)

The somewhat small brownish ‘sugar pie’ pumpkins that are sold for pies are of course the best, with the richest flavor and meatiest shells. The common bright orange pumpkins used for jack o’ lanterns are not as meaty and lack flavor, but are certainly worth the price if they are free. White pumpkins can be just plain bland; but with enough sugar and spices, can make decent pie. The deeply furrowed green or gray pumpkins might likewise taste better than they look, but who knows? I certainly have not tried one yet.

Because the jack o’ lantern pumpkins have such thin shells, my neighbor and I prefer to cut them into pieces and steam them before peeling them. It is a messy job, which is why she has me do the peeling part of it. Before steaming, she cuts out any parts with candle wax (on the bottom) or soot (on the top). Once peeled, the pulp is ready to be pureed, and then frozen, canned or baked directly into pies.

Those of us who do not indulge in freezing, canning or baking of ‘recycled’ pumpkins can either give our pumpkins to neighbors who do, or must otherwise dispose of them. On the compost pile, pumpkins should be chopped up and spread out so that they do not mold and rot as much as they would if left intact. Chopping them with a shovel should be adequate. By now, there should be plenty of fresh leaves on the compost pile to spread pumpkin parts out over.

If fireplaces or wood stoves have been used already, the resulting ash can be spread out with chopped pumpkin, to inhibit mold in compost piles. Ash also deters snails. Just be certain that only dead ash gets scattered, without any embers, and that it gets spread thinly enough so that it does not become a mucky mess that actually inhibits composting.

AGAIN – NO Blue Ribbon!

P90929After all that fuss yesterday, about how much I wanted to win a first place blue ribbon for one of my jams or jellies at the Jam, Pie and Chili Contest of the Santa Cruz Mountains Harvest Festival, I must still do without! Not only did I not win the ever elusive first place blue ribbon that I so desperately crave, but for the first time ever, I did not win second or even third place!

However, it is not as disappointing as it seems. There were no ribbons to win. There was only the same single prize for each of the three categories, which is a winter pass for the hot tub and sauna at the Bear Creek Recreation and Community Center of Boulder Creek. Although it is not the blue ribbon that I can flaunt and brag incessantly about, it is a fabulously generous prize.

What was more disappointing was that the Contest was canceled. For the Jam category, there were only two other contestants with only a few submissions, and neither showed up! How can that even happen? My six submissions were the only six to compete! It was even worse for the Pie and Chili categories, with only one contestant bringing pumpkin pie and two types of chili!

Yes, it was disappointing, but only briefly. No one minded that there were only identical pumpkin pies to vote for in the Pie category. In fact, we all easily agreed that they were the best pies in the Contest! Selection of the best of two types of chili in the Chili category was slightly more challenging only because no one wanted to say that one chili was less excellent than the other.

I still crave the elusive first place blue ribbon, but can easily do without it too.

Six on Saturday: Still NO Blue Ribbon


That could change later today, at the Jam, Pie and Chili Contest of the Santa Cruz Mountains Harvest Festival. My jams or jellies have won second place every year for the past few years, except for only one year when my mother’s peach jam won second place. How embarrassing! Anyway, for some of the past few years, my entries have won both second and third place.

However, none of my jams or jellies have won a first place blue ribbon!

This could be the year!

Will it be? Well, that is doubtful.

Blue elderberry jelly is what most often wins second place, except only when blackberry jelly . . . or my mother’s peach jam . . . is better. Unfortunately, blue elderberries were rather scarce this year, and what I got were not very good. In fact, they were downright bad. Other fruits, such as currants and gooseberries, were too scarce. Dogwood berries did not ripen soon enough.

For this year:

Peach jam looks and tastes great, but is about as chewy as a gummy bear.

Plum jelly is a sloppy mess that tastes sort of burnt.

Elderberry jelly is a bit sloppier, and, as mentioned above, is made with inferior fruit.

Blueberry jam is sort of like preserves. It is not bad. However, it is made from surplus ‘store-bought’ blueberries from a neighbor, instead of from locally grown or collected fruit.

Blackberry jam tastes great, but the seeds are weirdly tough this year, like wooden gravel.

Blackberry jelly is probably the best of the six, but tastes more like sugar than berries.

1. Do you notice anything missing among these few of the several ribbons that have been awarded to our jams and jellies in the past? There is not a single blue ribbon . . . yet. It will be mine!90928

2. Do you see what else is missing? Of course not. If you could see it, then it would not be missing. It would also be blue; as in the blue elderberries that normally make the ‘second’ best jelly!90928+

3. The native currants were no better. They are never abundant like blue elderberries are, but there are normally more than there were this year. I did not bother looking for gooseberries.90928++

4. Kousa dogwood made plenty of fruit, but it is not ripe yet! Oh well. Ironically, this particular tree might get cut down this winter. The abundant fruit is too messy on the pavement below.90928+++

5. Tomatoes are insultingly abundant where they grow wild around the compost piles and on roadsides. I do not need any more stoopid tomatoes! They will not help me win my blue ribbon!90928++++

6. Six submissions are ready for the Jam Contest later today: peach jam, plum jelly, elderberry jelly, blueberry jam, blackberry jam, blackberry jelly. I will write about the results tomorrow.90928+++++

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:

Wild Radish

P90623This is why I do not bother growing greens in the garden just yet. Wild radish grows here wild; and there is way too much of it. Most but not all of it gets mown in meadows or cut down with weed whackers on the edges of roadways. There is no need to cut down that which is out of the way. Besides, we could not cut it all even if we wanted to. There is wild turnip and mustard too. All are prolifically naturalized and invasive exotic species.
These radishes do not make the distended roots that garden varieties of radishes are grown for. Nor to the wild turnips make distended turnip roots. They, as well as the mustard, do make good greens though. They may not be quite as good as fancier garden varieties, but I can’t beat the price, or get any other type of vegetable for such minimal effort. I only need to go grab what I want when I want it. There really is no cultivation involved.
Even though their seed is not sown in phases to extend their season, they remain productive for a long time, and only stop producing if they get too dry in summer. If I were to grow a garden variety of turnip green, I would sow a few phases a few weeks apart so that, as an earlier phase finishes, a later phase begins producing. Unlike other types of greens that must be gathered prior to bloom, wild greens can be taken from blooming plants.
Wild greens can be canned like collards, but are better if simply frozen. Unbloomed floral trusses are like tiny bits of broccoli. If gathered while still young and tender, thicker stems can be chopped and cooked like broccoli stalks, and can even be pickled.

Not Enough Blue

P80929KThere were barely enough blue elderberries left this late in the season for the blue elderberry jelly that should have won the blue ribbon at the Harvest Festival. It’s a long story.
After the main supplier of blue elderberries was removed to widen the driveway that it was next to many years ago, I started collecting blue elderberries from other wild shrubs on roadsides about town. At the time, the berries were very abundant. No one else was collecting them, and the doves did not come down to eat them until later in the season.
A friend eventually asked me why I was collecting the berries. I informed him that they could be used just like the black elderberries that grow wild in Eastern North American and Europe. He decided to make wine and booze with them, and payed others for whatever they could harvest. The berries were much more scarce the following season, not because they had been any less prolific, but because others were collecting them as quickly as they ripened. They became comparably scarce elsewhere as well, seemingly since the blue elderberry jelly started winning second place annually at the Harvest Festival.
This year, the elderberries were collected faster than I could get them. Even the berries at work that were out of reach of those collecting berries closer to town were taken by the doves who arrived early, and could not get enough to eat around town. Some of my friends insisted that they could find berries for me, but by the time I asked one of the them to do so, it was just too late in the season. She found barely enough for the two half pints of jelly needed to enter into the competition at the Harvest Festival. I was pleased with that much. It would have been all that I needed for my blue ribbon. However . . .
The Jelly and Jam Competition at the Santa Cruz Mountains Harvest Festival was canceled for this year!
That too is a long story. There are not enough entries to make it worth the bother. A few years ago, there were only seven entries, and five were mine (which makes my ‘temporary’ lack of a blue ribbon even more embarrassing)! The competition will resume next year, and it will get more publicity. The Santa Cruz Mountains Harvest Festival is happening right now (until 6:30 this evening), but without the Jelly and Jam Competition.
For now, I made only one pint of elderberry syrup.

Blue Ribbon

P71001Somewhere in the San Lorenzo Valley, there is a little old lady who is stitching a blue quilt. It is made of all the blue ribbons that she wins every year at the Jelly and Jam Contest of the Santa Cruz Mountains Harvest Festival. I do not know who she is, but I recognize her squiggly writing on the fancy labels. It is barely legible. Her hands are worn and tired from three quarters of a century off picking fruit, processing it into jelly and jam, and then stitching all her blue ribbons together. She probably giggles as she works, and thinks about everyone who wins only red or white ribbons.

Three years ago, I submitted my blue elderberry jelly and ‘Shiro’ white plum jam into the contest. They both won! Blue elderberry won second place. White plum won third. Two years ago, the blue elderberry jelly won second place again, although the white plum jam did not win anything.

Last year, I submitted the maximum of five jellies and jams. I was determined to get my blue ribbon! In conjunction to blue elderberry jelly and white plum jam, I also submitted peach jam, blackberry jelly and Santa Catalina Island cherry jelly. However, the Jelly and Jam Contest was not publicized like it should have been. Very few people were aware of it. Consequently, there was only ONE other entry! It was a sloppy and seedy strawberry and kiwi jam made from fruit that was not likely home grown. I knew I would finally win my blue ribbon, and probably red and white too! Technically, it was not cheating. It was just the way things worked out.

It was no surprise that the blackberry jelly won third place. It was a bit of surprise that the blue elderberry won second place, even though it had done so twice before. I was hoping that it would be the blue ribbon winner. That was not a problem. I was sure it won second place only because one of the other three had won first place. I stepped off the grandstand after claiming each of the two ribbons, but thought about just staying there for the third. I did the tactful thing and walked off stage.

Finally, the first place winner of the blue ribbon in the Jelly and Jam Contest was to be announced. I was halfway into my first step back to the grandstand when I heard “STRAWBERRY AND KIWI JAM”! What?! How was this possible? What was she putting in that jam?! The winner was not present to claim her ribbon, but she won nonetheless. I imagined her watching with a telescope from the window of her secret hideout in the mountains above town, and laughing maniacally.

Well, the Santa Cruz Mountains Harvest Festival was yesterday. For the Jelly and Jam Contest, I submitted only two entries; blue elderberry jelly and blackberry jelly. There were only four other entries; fig jam, peach jam, another blackberry jelly and the infamous strawberry and kiwi jam. I was pleased that my blackberry jelly won third place, and I still hoped for the blue elderberry jelly to win second or first. The peach jam won second. It was made by . . . WHO? MY MOTHER’S PEACH JAM WON SECOND PLACE?! This was intolerable! I ALWAYS win at least second place! What made it worse is that I lost to my MOTHER’S peach jam! Where did she learn how to make jam? . . . and from peaches from the tree that I grew? Before I could recover from this baffling revelation, the first place winner was announced; and it was again, the strawberry and kiwi jam.

Wow! I do not know what to think. I got to meet the lady who makes the strawberry and kiwi jam. She is not a little old lady who lives in a secret hideout. She is a pretty young lady, and she actually told me that she does not intend to compete next year, and told me that I should try her recipe. I thanked here but declined. I do not want to use store bought produce. Now the difficult part. I need to deliver the second place red ribbon to my mother who was not there to claim it.