The careful art of drying cranberries

cranberries dried

Have you ever tried to dry cranberries? I myself am a dehydrator veteran, but the idea of cranberries was new to me. It’s also hard to find in food preservation books. Our family picked up some cranberries from a late harvest in November, from a local bog. Some of us made them into holiday sauces, and then froze the rest (just put them in the freezer, it’s that easy!), and then I dried all of mine. My children eat them as an alternative to fruit snacks.

I was surprised at how little sugar is required for these. I also like the idea that alternative sweeteners can be used. But there is a trick to drying cranberries, and without it, this processes will surely fail.

First off, to understand how to prepare cranberries, you have to have an understanding of how they work. Most people are detached from their food by the industrial food market, so farming knowledge is lost. Here’s a photo of a cranberry bog.

cranberry bog

This is how it works: When the cranberries are ripe, the bog is filled without about a foot and a half of water- the cranberries don’t grow in the water. Then, workers go about, knocking them with a device, so that they detach from the plant. Air inside the berry causes it to float to the top, and then a type of skimmer goes across the surface collecting them. Therefore, one can deduce that like blueberries, cranberries are fairly airtight.

You can see how that would cause problems in a dehydrator- how would the moisture escape the skin?

Well, this is why you scald them. To prepare your berries, cull them (that is, sort through them with your hands, removing bad berries that may have gone by or blackened, stems, etc.), and place them in a bowl. For a 12oz package, you’ll need to boil approximately 1 quart (4cups) of water in a separate pan. When the water comes to a boil, take it off the burner and wait for the bubbles to stop forming. DO NOT pour bubbling water over the berries. Pour the calmed water over the berries, being careful to stand back. The boiling water causes the skin to split on the berries, which makes them spit- spit boiling hot water/juice at you. Like with most food preservation, you should be wearing an apron and long sleeve to protect yourself. I also keep a wet cloth handy to protect my white countertops from being stained by lingering cranberry juice.

Let the berries sit for about 5-10min until they have split. Then drain them in a cullender. Once they have been drained, put them back into the empty bowl. For every 12oz of berries, add 1/4c of sugar, maple, agave, or sweetener of your choice. Then spread them in a single layer onto a cookie sheet and put them in the freezer for 2hrs.

When the two hours is up and the berries are chilled, spread them out into your dehydrator and dry them at 135. After a day, open up the dehydrator and with a very sharp knife, stab the ones that are in tact. This will assure that the berries are letting out moisture. Put the dehydrator back on, and check them about every 12hrs. The drying will take approximately 2-3 days, depending on how many you have in the dehydrator. Store them in a dry place.


How to can applesauce with ease

Now is the perfect time to can applesauce- we picked up 3 bags of “drops”, apples that had fallen onto the ground. They’re often substantially discounted, because otherwise they’d be composted. The apples are still good, but they usually “drop” because they’re really ripe and juicy and because falling makes them undesirable for purchase, either from being dirty or marked.

We don’t care. We grabbed some giant containers and peeled and chopped them. You’re obviously not going to use the core or the peels in this process. As you’re peeling and then chopping the apples, put them in another container with cold water and lemon juice. How much lemon juice isn’t an exact science- just put enough to keep the apples from turning brown.

Once you’re done that, put them in a pot with a little bit of water on the bottom. This isn’t an exact science either. You’re probably going to need about an inch- the purpose of putting water in the pot with the apples is to keep them from scorching on the pan or sticking, and to help them break down.

I took successive photos of the apples breaking down and cooking. You can add sugar, but I chose not to. The sugar is added by your personal taste. Since apples aren’t easily measured, nothing in this recipe is exact. The apples take about 20min to cook 5-6 pints of sauce. As you go, you’re going to want to stir the apples to turn them over, and eventually use a masher to mash them up. Here is what the process looks like:

When it looks like that, pour it into hot jars that you’ve washed, possibly boiled, and set in a hot dishwasher or hot water. Fill it to halfway up the rim to leave about 1/4in head space. Then apply the rings and lids that have been boiled and left in hot water. Tighten by hand.

The final step is 10min in a water bath boiled. when the jars are removed, the lids should seal and not be able to be popped.

Vampire veges: Canning Beets

Have you ever wanted a pink kitchen? You’re in luck. Can some beets and you’ll have pink polka dots everywhere. Seriously. And pink hands to match.

So beets are a huge pain in the butt. Like tomatoes, you have to sort of blanch them. Put them in boiling water with the root and part of the stem on. Boil them for 15min, and the outside skin will come off easily, either by peeling or with a knife. Chop off the root and the stem. Cut them into chunks (we cut ours in pieces that were no bigger than 1in squares by 1/4in thick).

Prep your jars by washing and heating them. We put ours on steam in the dishwasher. Make sure you put your lids and rings in a pan to boil as well. Turn the heat off when they come to a boil and let them sit in hot water.

Line up your jars and put 1/4tsp salt in them.

Fill the jars with beets and fill the water up to the bottom of the rim. You should not have more than that in them because they’ll boil over and make your pressure cooker water sticky. This happened to us in every batch because I felt a little overzealous.

Bring your pressure cooker water to a boil. Place your beets in the pressure cooker basket to cook at 10lbs pressure. When there’s a steady stream of steam, place the knob on the top (the hula knob). When it starts to rock rapidly, start your timer for 30min.

Upon the end of 30min, turn your heat off. Wait before you remove your hula knob- the other knob will go down.

Cool your beets and wait for them to seal. You’ll hear a click and the lid won’t be able to be pressed in.

More pickles- Bread and butter, quick and easy

We like pickles around here, and I’m quite surprised that I’m not more tempted to double my output. It’s late in the season- we got a lot of rain this year, so I was fortunate to get cucumbers as late as midway September, but note to self: If you don’t want to pay an arm and a leg for them, grow them yourself and harvest them early.

A lot of people ask me if I grow my own food…funny story about that. First, I have a black thumb. But secondly, I’m only allowed to container garden where I live. I moved just as I should have been planting things this year, so even if I had the energy, it wasn’t happening. Fortunately, my family has a small victory garden, and they were generous enough to share, but instead of basic canning adventures, this blog will be inundated with my container gardening adventures next year.

Are you ready? Don’t worry- we’ll do this together.

In the mean time, I’m doing lazy canning with you on this post. Lazy canning? No pressure cooker, no water bath.

You’re going to need lots of cucumbers- about 8lbs. Also about 3 large onions. Chop them up- I chop my sweet pickles into rounds, and my dill pickles into spears. You can measure out how many jars you’ll need by measuring the volume. It’s always better to have extra jars and lids on hand. I measured out to have 4 quarts and one pint, but when I compressed the pickles into the jars, I can out with 6 pints and 1 quart (8 quarts).

Once you chop the onions and cucumbers, put them in a large container, and cover them with a mix of one cup of pickling salt, and 2c of water. Swish them around in the water mixture, and put them in the refrigerator overnight. Don’t worry if you don’t get to them the next day. They’ll be ok for a day or two. My recipe says to cover them with ice cubes. Whatever. I’m not going through all of that. My pickles came out great. If you’re worried, you can double your salt and water mix.

Drain and rinse the pickles the next day under cold water. Put them aside (if you rinse out your container, you can put them back in there).

Clean and sterilize your jars by putting them in a big pot and bringing the water to a boil. The hotter everything is, the more successful your seal will be.

Bring your lids and rings to a boil and turn off the heat.

In a big pot (I used a stock pot), mix:

4c white vinegar

1c water

3c white sugar (I used raw cane sugar)

2c brown sugar

1/4t ground clove

2T mustard seed

1t celery seed

1tsp turmeric (remember- turmeric stains like you’d never believe, so be careful where you spill things or set your spoon down)

Bring this mix to a boil for 3 minutes, then add your cukes and onions. When the mix starts to bubble, time them to simmer for 15-20min until the cukes start to become transparent.

Turn off the heat, and pack them into the jars. Make sure there’s enough liquid to go up to 1/4in from the lid. You can really cram your pickles in, but take care not to crush them and make them mushy. Clean the edges of the jars with a rag, and add your lids and rings. Tighten well and BAM- you’re done!


Super Easy Dill Pickle Recipe (canning)

This is going to be the easiest canning experience of your life.

For these dill spears, I recommend wide-mouth jars. Put them into a steaming pot of water with a steamer tray in the bottom and bring them to a boil.

Then bring your rings and lids to a boil and turn off the heat.

Cut the ends off of your cukes and slice them into spears. You can determine how many spears you’ll need by putting them into the jars sideways.

In each empty jar, add 1/2tps of dehydrated dill weed, and 1/4tsp mustard seed (double for quarts).

For each quart (or for every 2 pints) combine 2c water, 1c vinegar, and 1T pickling salt in a large pot and bring it to a boil.

Pull your jars out of the pot and pack them with cukes. Then pour the boiling hot vinegar mix over the cukes, leaving about a quarter of an inch head room. Apply the lids and rings and tighten them by hand. (you’ll notice here that I spiced my vinegar. You can do that, but you’ll need to add spice to your jars too. I didn’t want my pickles to be under spiced, so I infused the vinegar mix, which is only necessary if you really love dill- these are definitely going to have some zip!)

Put the jars back into the pot with the steamer tray. Bring them to a boil and boil them for 20min. Pull them out and set them to cool on a towel. They’ll be finished when the lid can’t be popped (you may hear a click from them sealing).

Low Sugar Jams and Jellies with Pomona’s (Blueberry and Raspberry Jam)

I bought this at my local healthfood store- I prefer it over the regular pectin now, after working with it a few times, simply because it uses far less sugar than most recipes, and also has a honey adaptation. The jams I’ve made have the same thickness and consistency as regular jam, but the taste of the fruit is much more evident.

I made two different batches, blueberry and raspberry, as each batch that I made had approximately 5 jars.

To begin, you have to mash your berries. I’ve mentioned before in my post on canning strawberries that there is a kitchen tool called a masher that you can acquire. I do not recommend a food processor. For each batch of berries, you require four cups of mashed berries. This is approximately 1.5 quarts when mashed, but get two to be safe.

I put my jars in a large stock pot and brought the water to a boil, then turned off the burner and covered them to keep them hot.

You will also need to boil your lids and rings, then turn off the burner and let them sit.

The blueberry recipe and others require 1/4c lemon juice. Bottled lemon juice is sulfited to maintain color, so I grabbed a couple of lemons, cut them in quarters, and squeezed them. Be sure to get all of the seeds out.

Then you must mix the calcium solution. There is approximately 2tsps in the packet, which yields about 1c of calcium water.

In a saucepan, add the mixed berries, 2t calcium water, and for the blueberries, add the lemon juice. Bring the mixture to a rolling boil. This means a boil that doesn’t stop bubbling profusely when you stir it.

In a separate dish, mix about 1c raw cane sugar with 2t pectin. Add it to the berries when their boiling, and bring it to a boil for 1-2 minutes. The raspberries require a full 2min, while the blueberries may not.

You’re going to want to skim the fuzz off of the jam to keep crystallization off of the top of the jam.

Take out the hot jars, and pour the jam in them leaving a 1/4in head room, and put on the hot lids and rings. If after an hour the lids have not sealed (sealed is when they don’t make a popping sound when pushed), you can boil the jars for 10min. I boiled one of mine, but I was sure to put a steamer tray underneath it to keep it off of the bottom of the pan.

How to can carrots

These are carrots that I got at a local farm called Willow Pond. They were $2/lb, which is pretty great, especially since they don’t open their farm stand until after Labor Day and were still happy to sell me some!

Canning carrots is just like canning green beans, as they have to be pressure cooked because they’re low acid. The carrots have to be peeled and chopped, then washed. We also wash and heat our jars and lids, and keep them warm in the dishwasher. The lids must also be boiled hot as well.

Once you’ve done all of that, you have to heat the water to a boil in the pressure cooker. While you’re waiting, fill the jars with 1/4tsp salt each, pour in the carrots just halfway up the rim, and jam them in. Once you’ve done that, you can fill them with water to the top of the carrots and apply the hot lids and rings.

When the pressure cooker is hot, insert your jars and latch the lid. When a steady stream of steam is released from the top, apply the knob. You can begin timing when the knob starts to do the hula, and they cook for 25min. These are canned with 10lb pressure.

When time is up, turn off the heat and wait for the knob to stop dancing as hard, then carefully remove it with an oven mitt. The lid is not safe to be taken off until the pressure button goes down. Then you may remove the lid and jars. The jars are sealed when the lid makes a popping sound and compresses. The ten pound bag of carrots yielded 13 pints.