Preserving and Canning Book Review
Whenever the harvest starts rolling in, I bury myself in cookbooks. Every year I seek out new ways to cook and preserve our garden’s bounty. Sure, there are the staples like my pickled jalapenos or small batch refrigerator pickles I make every year. Nonetheless, I strive to make a few new preserves or a new twist on a classic every summer. This year I have discovered Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry by Cathy Barrow of Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Kitchen.
Cathy Barrow aka Mrs. Wheelbarrow is a foodie/canning blogger who creates delicious and beautiful recipes with an emphasis on local and seasonal food. I stumbled across her beautiful book at my local library. While paging through the book, I was immediately struck by the mouth watering photography. The recipes were unique and twists on classics: Fennel, Orange and Olive Refrigerator Pickles, Tomato Nectarine Salsa, Figgy Marmalade with Macadamia Nuts, and Seven-Day Sweet Pickle Chips to name a few. The books doesn’t just feature preserves and pickles, there’s a chapter dedicated to salt-curing, brining, smoking and air-curing, in addition to a chapter on fresh cheese making. Scattered throughout the book are recipes using the preserves!
Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry starts off like most preserving cookbooks by detailing the basics of water-bath canning and pressure canning. Barrow gives practical information about standard canning equipment and technique. It’s a quick, but thorough introduction that’s an easy read.
It Started with Some Pretty Peppers
I want to make every recipe in this book. By a chance encounter at the Marietta Farmers Market, I came across some beautiful habeneros and scotch bonnets. Yes, I do realized that these little babies are some of the hottest chili peppers out there, but look how pretty they are! I bought those beauties for jelly making.
Heat and Sweet Habanero Jelly
Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s version of a hot pepper jelly is deliciously sweet with a peppery kick. Habeneros are very fruity peppers (when you get over the heat) and the addition of dried apricots and honey in the recipe plays up the fruitiness.
She does warn you in the recipe to avoid green peppers because they become a muddy brown in the final product. I threw one in for the heck of it because it was sooo pretty (more about that later). The recipe moves faster if you have a food processor to chop up the ingredients. If you choose to chop by hand, be sure to wear gloves when handling the habeneros; the oils of the pepper can stick around, even with repeated washings.
To get the jelly to set, it needs to cook until it reaches 220 degrees Fahrenheit. Unlike most jelly and jam recipes, this happens quickly. I actually messed up my first batch of the jelly because I got distracted and the jelly reached the “soft ball” stage; which means it was more like a hot pepper candy than a jelly. There’s a defining point in the jelly making process when the foam suddenly clears: this means that the optimal temperature has been reached. It happens quickly, so don’t walk away when the boiling starts.
My jelly turned out to be a little on the loose side; I err on the side of caution since I ended up making hot pepper candy the first go around. I did use a thermometer and got the the temp up to 220. However, as I have learned in preserving in the past few years, even the most tested recipe can vary from season to season. It could be perhaps my peppers had a higher water content or I used an ounce or two more peppers than it needed. Who knows; it’s all part of art of preserving. By the way, the green pepper does turn a mud color 🙁
Preserves Make the Best Gifts
Need a gift for someone who’s hard to shop for? Then Heat and Sweet Jelly is the perfect gift. I love to make small batches of specialty preserves to gift to friends and family. Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry has many more such recipes to fill your pantry with ready made gifts from the garden.
Don’t forget to save a jar (or two) for yourself. My favorite way to enjoy hot pepper jelly is on a buttery cracker with cream cheese. They make a perfect appetizer (or lunch). I have plans to serve the jelly alongside grilled pork chops or a roasted chicken. Yum!