Monday, November 10, 2008

Preserving My (In)Sanity

I have a problem; an addiction really. Or perhaps it is just an obsession. But what ever you want to call it, I cannot stop canning things "for the winter." Like the mothers (one human, one bear) in the beloved children's story Blueberries for Sal, I have gathered all the blueberries I could get my hands on (and the peaches, and apricots, and strawberries and apples, and tomatoes and on and on). Here in earthquake country we are encouraged to keep several days worth of supplies on hand for the inevitable "big one." But instead of stockpiling water, flashlights, radios, energy bars and batteries like a sensible person, I stockpile beautiful fruits in jars, filling my pantry to overflowing.

So far since late spring, I have managed to make jams from strawberries, strawberries and rhubarb, apricots, tomatoes and chilis, and peaches and blueberries. I have made jelly from Thomcord grapes, and sauce from apples and tomatoes. And today I made six half pints of cranberry chutney. I still have jars of applesauce and tomato chili jam on my counter because I have no room in my pantry...and now this.

It is as if I am operating from some primal instinct, as a squirrel gathers nuts, or a pioneer woman stuffs her root cellar. It is so not necessary, but it is deeply satisfying all the same. It feels like a connection to the past, while preserving the future, quite literally.

In Sandwich, Massachusetts, a lovely little Cape Cod village we visit each summer, they keep the jam-making tradition alive in their Green Briar Jam Kitchen. Volunteers lead workshops on how to make jams, jellies and other preserves, and when we visit, we can smell the sweet fragrance from well up the road. It is not hard to make jams, really, and with a few supplies on hand, it can be made in a jiffy. The recipe for Cranberry Chutney was inspired by one from the Green Briar, and the cranberries were shipped to us by my mother-in-law from Annie's Crannies on the Cape. It is tart, boldly flavored, and a delightful shiny crimson color that reminds me of the holidays.

For tips on preserving I suggest you visit the following website:

Basic supplies that I use for jamming are a large dutch oven, my pasta cooker (with removable insert), ball jars with 2 piece lids, tongs for jars, and a funnel. That's it! This recipe is much easier to make than jam (you don't need to worry about it setting) and it comes together quickly so that the whole project can be done in less than an hour. I'm planning on giving these to friends for Christmas (and finally clearing off my counter)!

Cranberry Chutney

makes about 5-6 8 oz. jars

1 pound of cranberries
3/4 pound of apples, peeled, cored and chopped
1 medium onion, diced
1/2 lemon, seeded and diced
1/2 C raisins
1 C brown sugar
1/4 C candied ginger
1/4 C cider vinegar
1/2 C water
1/2 t salt
1/2 t chili powder
1/2 t dry mustard
1 stick of cinnamon

Combine all ingredients in a large dutch oven and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 25 minutes or until thick. Skim foam from the top and remove cinnamon stick.

Pour into sterilized jars and seal according to manufacturers directions.

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