As surely as the college basketball’s Final Four leads to the return of Major League Baseball, the reappearance of farmers markets is about to spark the season of canning.
Those seduced by the magical transformation of fruit and sugar, or vegetables and pickling salt, know that early spring is a time of joy in North Carolina. Canning jars emptied over winter stand ready to be filled with long awaited rhubarb and strawberries, followed by peaches and berries and, of course, the cornucopia of all things pickleable.
A wonderful new resource is available for home canners, Pickles & Preserves,
a book by Andrea Wiegl, food writer for The News & Observer
. Perfect for novices and loaded with recipes that experienced canners will enjoy, it is part of the Savor the South series of single-topic cookbooks published by UNC Press.
Weigl will discuss her book Wednesday, March 12, at 7 p.m. at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh.
Weigl is the guest speaker of Culinary Historians of Piedmont North Carolina (CHOPNC) Wednesday, March 19, at 7 p.m at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill. For a full list of events, go to UNC Press
While she remembers Grandma Weigl canning all sorts of practical foods, Weigl herself started preserving only about eight years ago. “It’s something I always wanted to do, and I was determined to teach myself,” says Weigl, who spontaneously purchased a canning pot and some basics at a hardware store. “I can’t remember now if I made strawberries first, or maybe peaches, but I was hooked.”
Weigl regrets disposing of a stash of her late grandmother’s canning jars—the aged contents had spoile—but says that generous neighbors came to her aid when she was testing recipes for the book. “We have a neighborhood garden club that is more of a social club, and so many of the ladies gave me jars,” says Weigl, who figures she filled hundreds of them as she mastered the featured recipes. “That was so encouraging.”
Weigl felt like she needed the boost. Her daughter was not quite a year old when she started the labor intensive project, and it sometimes was a challenge to make pickles and preserves while balancing the baby’s needs and working a full-time job.
“I look back now and can’t even fathom how I did it,” she says. “I asked for a year to write the book because I need that to work with what was in season.”
Despite constant testing and a weeklong visit from her mother, during which they made more than a dozen different recipes, Weigl discovered at the end that she somehow managed to miss some key produce. That’s when she picked up the phone.
“I asked people for recipes,” Weigl says. “Sheri Castle was nice enough to share her corn and sweet pepper relish recipe.”
Weigl has nice friends. The book includes recipes from several acclaimed canners, chefs and cookbook writers, including Andrea Reusing of Lantern restaurant; April McGreger of Farmer’s Daughter; fellow Savor the South writers Debbie Moose, Kathleen Purvis and Sandra Gutierrez; and Jean Anderson, whose 1987 Green Thumb Preserving Guide was reissued by UNC Press in 2012.
Weigl is especially proud to include Anderson’s summery Yellow Squash Pickles, which she admits she can’t live without. “I absolutely love that recipe and never came across anything like in my research,” she says.
The book includes a useful guide to canning safety, which Weigl presents in accessible terms meant to encourage new canners to take up the practice.
“Canning can be intimidating, which is why I think I waited so long to try it myself,” she says. “If you have a better understand of the why we do certain things, there’s less reason to be afraid.”
Weigl is eager for the return of spring fruits and summer vegetables but admits that the short window in fall when Damson plums arrive is her favorite part of the canning season.
“I also look forward to honeysuckles coming back to make honeysuckle jelly,” she says, referencing the very first recipe in the book. “There’s something about finding your patch of honeysuckle and taking the time to pick four cups’ worth to make jelly that is really satisfying.”
Soft Refrigerator Honeysuckle Jelly
From Pickles & Preserves,
a Savor the South cookbook by Andrea Weigl. Copyright 2014 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher.
Weigel suggests using the leftover honeysuckle infusion to make lemonade.
Makes 2 half-pint jars
4 cups honeysuckle blossoms, packed but not crushed, green parts removed, including leaves and tips
5 1/3 cups cool water
Juice of half a large lemon
2/3 cup sugar
4 tablespoons instant pectin (also called no-cook freezer pectin)
Place the honeysuckle blossoms in a large nonreactive bowl and add the water. Use a plate to weigh down the flowers so they’re completely submerged. Let sit out overnight.
The next day, strain the juice from the blossoms and reserve. Measure out 1 2/3 cups honeysuckle infusion and place in a bowl. Add the lemon juice.
Combine the sugar and pectin in a large bowl. Stir to prevent lumps of pectin in the sugar.
Pour the honeysuckle mixture into the bowl with the pectin and sugar. Stir briskly with a whisk for 4 minutes until the mixture is thoroughly combined and starts to thicken.
Lade the jelly into clean plastic freezer jars, seal with lids, and place in the refrigerator. The jelly will be soft set after 24 hours and will keep for one month in the refrigerator.
Jill Warren Lucas is a founding member of CHOPNC who blogs at Eating My Words. Follow her at @jwlucasnc.