Pumpkin Jam

Pumpkin Jam

This year seemed to be a particularly good year for growing pumpkins on the Island.  Everywhere I looked I saw fields, bins, and wagons full of the bright orange pumpkins which are members of the gourd family.

Trailer Loads of Pumpkins at Kool Breeze Farm in Wilmot Valley, near Summerside, PEI

 

Bins of Pumpkins at Kool Breeze Farm

Funny how we can’t wait to display them on our doorsteps and in fall displays but, once the end of November arrives, we don’t want to see pumpkins hanging around as thoughts turn to Christmas decorating.

Pumpkins at Compton’s Vegetable Stand, St. Eleanors, near Summerside, PEI

 

Field of Pumpkins, Marshfield, PEI

So, wondering what to do with those pumpkins instead of throwing them into the compost bin?  Why not make a batch of old-fashioned pumpkin jam.  This isn’t an altogether common jam you are likely to find on many supermarket shelves.  Yet, it is a very tasty, economical, and versatile jam that only takes four ingredients — pumpkin, sugar, crushed pineapple, and jello.  This is a jam that my grandmother used to make every fall for her brother yet I don’t recall it ever being on her own pantry shelves and I’m not sure why.

The jam has a wonderful bright orange-yellow color.  In fact, I think it is more like a marmalade than a jam.  Regardless, it is very tasty on toast, biscuits, as a filling for cookies, and as a dollop on warm vanilla custard.

Pumpkin Jam on Biscuits

 

Pumpkin Jam as a Filling for Thumbprint Cookies

To make the jam, select a pumpkin that is more oblong than round in shape.  I visited my local vegetable stand and they told me these are “jamming” pumpkins.

Pumpkin for Jam

Cut the pumpkin open and remove and discard the seeds and pulp.

Split Pumpkin Ready to be Seeded

Cut the pumpkin flesh into finely diced pieces and place in pot.

Diced Pumpkin

Add the sugar to the diced pumpkin and let the mixture sit overnight.  The sugar will draw the juice out of the pumpkin.

Adding Sugar to the Diced Pumpkin

In the morning, drain and reserve the juice from the pumpkin.

Draining the Juice from the Pumpkin

Boil the juice for 20 minutes over medium heat to form a syrup.

Syrup for Pumpkin Jam

Add the drained pumpkin to the hot syrup.

Adding Pumpkin to Hot Syrup

Over medium heat, cook the pumpkin until it starts to become transparent, approximately 20-30 minutes.

Cooking the Jam

Add the can of crushed pineapple and its juice to the jam.

Adding the Crushed Pineapple to the Pumpkin Jam

Add the jello to the jam.

Adding the Jello to the Pumpkin Jam

Bring jam to a boil over medium heat.

Cooked Pumpkin Jam

 Meanwhile, sterilize the jars.

Sterilizing the Jars

Fill the sterilized jars.

Bottling Pumpkin Jam

 Place warmed lids on the hot jam bottles to seal and fingertip-tighten the rims to the bottles.

Placing Lids on Jam Jars

Store this jam in the refrigerator for approximately 1 month and enjoy it fresh as a treat when pumpkins are in season.

Pumpkin Jam

 

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Pumpkin Jam

By Barbara99 Published: December 1, 2012

  • Yield: Apx. 6 1/2 cups

A colorful, moderately sweet, versatile jam.

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Cut, peel, remove and discard seeds and pulp of pumpkin. Cut pumpkin into small diced pieces.
  2. Place diced pumpkin in large pot. Add sugar. Soak overnight.
  3. Drain pumpkin in colander, reserving juice.
  4. Return reserved juice to pot and boil for 20 minutes over medium heat.
  5. Add the drained pumpkin to the hot syrup. Cook over medium heat until pumpkin pieces start to become translucent, about 20-30 minutes.
  6. Add the crushed pineapple and its juice to the mixture. Stir.
  7. Sprinkle the jello over the mixture. Stir and bring mixture to a boil over medium heat.
  8. Sterilize the jars either by using the sanitizer setting on the dishwasher or by placing the jars in boiling hot water.
  9. Fill sterilized jars, leaving approximately 1/4" head room at jar top. Heat lids and place on jars. Fingertip tighten rims to jars. Store this jam in the refrigerator for apx. 1 month and enjoy it fresh as a treat when pumpkins are in season.

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One Hot Potato – Prince Edward Distillery’s Potato Vodka

Potato Vodka Made by Prince Edward Distillery, Hermanville, PEI

PEI has long been known for growing world-class potatoes – they are, after all, our primary cash crop, injecting more than one billion dollars annually into the Island economy, directly and through spin-offs[i].  We all know potatoes as a vegetable on dinner tables and are familiar with them boiled, mashed, baked, as French fries and potato chips, and as the key ingredient in scalloped potatoes.  But, would you think of potatoes as a main ingredient in a beverage?   Well, there are a couple of industrious and innovative women who have figured out a new use for PEI spuds.  Julie Shore and Arla Johnson own and operate Prince Edward Distillery where potato vodka is their flagship product.

Road Map from Charlottetown to Hermanville, location of Prince Edward Distillery

Drive east from the Island’s capital city of Charlottetown along the northeastern shore of the Island and you will find Hermanville, a small rural district not far from the town of Souris in the eastern end of PEI.  Late this past summer, I travelled to Hermanville to visit Prince Edward Distillery to find out about this potato vodka. In addition to learning how potato vodka is made, I learned the Distillery is diversifying its operation.  They are now producing gin, rye whiskey, rum, and a bourbon-style corn whiskey that sells under the label of IC Shore and that’s in addition to the potato vodka and wild blueberry vodka.  Also new this year (2012) are their decadent rum cakes made locally with the Distillery’s Merchantman 1897 rum.

Products Made at Prince Edward Distillery, Hermanville, PEI

The story of Julie and Arla’s arrival on PEI is similar to several others who have come to the Island and made it their home.  They came to PEI on holiday in 1997, fell in love with the Island, and decided to move here.  Leaving their jobs behind – Julie as a dental hygiene sales representative and Arla as a psychologist – they built an Inn (Johnson Shore Inn) in Hermanville in 1999, down a long, secluded, and narrow, unpaved lane that leads to a spectacular unobstructed view of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.  However, they soon discovered the tourist, and by extension the innkeeper’s, season is short in rural PEI (usually late May to the end of September). That extra time on her hands got Julie thinking about the business her ancestors had been in, pre-prohibition, in North Carolina – distilling apple brandy and bourbon.  Living in the land of potatoes, Julie had the idea to set up a distillery to produce potato vodka.  Thus, in 2007, Prince Edward Distillery was born with the first batch of potato vodka running from the still’s spigot in 2008. 

Rum, Whiskey, and Rye Produced at Prince Edward Distillery

Julie is the master distiller.  In 2011, the Distillery produced 10,000 bottles of the six different liquors the Distillery produces. Apart from her ancestral history of distilling (she’ll tell you distilling is in her blood!), I asked Julie if she had to have special training to be a distiller.  She tells me she has taken a distilling course at Cornell University and yeast-making courses in Montreal and France.  She and Arla travel the world over visiting distilleries and learning more about the art of fine distilling.  Visit their onsite retail outlet and look at the large map on the wall that points out the impressive world travels Julie and Arla have journeyed. 

Julie says the best variety of potatoes for potato vodka is Russet Burbank.  These spuds are the highest starch potato grown on the Island and the starch content is important for the yeast to work in the fermentation process.  The Distillery buys approximately 50,000 pounds of locally-grown potatoes, on an annual basis, to use as the base for potato vodka. Julie explains that it takes about 18 pounds of potatoes to produce one 750 ml bottle of the potato vodka so, as you can imagine, it takes a lot of spuds to yield any amount of vodka.  While potato vodka is not unheard of, it is more rare since 99% of vodkas on the market are grain-based.  That’s probably because, as Julie says, potato vodka is difficult to distill due to the fact that potatoes are approximately 80% water, have to be cooked, and it takes such a volume of the raw ingredient (potatoes) to produce the final product. 

Prince Edward Distillery’s Potato Vodka
Tour of Prince Edward Distillery

Making potato vodka is very labour intensive.  The potatoes are ground and cooked to break down their starch into fermentable sugars so that fermentation will occur with the addition of yeast (wait till you hear what is done with the leftover mash from the potatoes and who the benefactors are!).  The mixture is fermented for four days in 1000-gallon tanks to form alcohol. 

German-made Holstein Copper Vertical Still at Prince Edward Distillery

Using a 680-litre German-made Holstein copper vertical still that Julie had imported from Germany and capably assembled herself (since it came in parts and didn’t come with an instruction book), this fermentation mixture is distilled three times to remove impurities, achieve a neutrality of the alcohol, and to get the perfect alcohol content for the vodka.  Julie tells me it takes 10-14 days to produce a batch of vodka from start to finish, raw product (potatoes) to bottling.  

The Distillery has enjoyed sweet success and very early in its operation.  Their products rank among the best.  Just a year after producing their first vodka for market, the potato vodka won gold in the 2009 San Francisco World Spirits Competition and, in the same year, the wild blueberry vodka won silver in the UK International Spirits Challenge in London, England.  Yes, our locally-produced Island wines and spirits can match any on the market!

Prince Edward Distillery supports local producers, buying and using locally-produced potatoes, grains, and blueberries in their liquor production.  The Distillery employs between 4-6 full time employees and 1 part-time employee on a seasonal basis.  Currently, their products are sold in PEI and Nova Scotia markets.  However, they are exploring markets farther afield. 

Prince Edward Distillery’s Spirit Outlet at Peakes Quay in Charlottetown, PEI

This past summer, the Distillery decided to open a spirits outlet shop at Peakes Quay on the Charlottetown waterfront, a popular tourist attraction of small shops and not far from the seaport where dozens of cruise ships dock each year.  In addition to the Peakes Quay location (open seasonally), the Distillery’s products are available at the onsite retail shop in Hermanville and in PEI and Nova Scotia liquor stores.

So, about that mash I mentioned earlier – the left-over potato product after the liquid has been extracted for the vodka.  Well, behind the distillery may well be what many have dubbed as the most cheerful hogs on the Island!  Yes, that’s right, hogs or, more specifically, Heritage Berkshire pigs which Julie raises on the mash.  She says there are lots of nutrients left in the potato mash so why throw it out when she can raise pigs on it!

Heritage Berkshire Pigs Raised on Mash at Prince Edward Distillery

The Distillery is open daily, May – October, for tours and taste-testing; from October – May, it is open by appointment or by chance.  A tour of the Distillery and taste-testing of two spirits costs $10. (or, if you simply want to taste any spirit, it is $3./taste).  For more information on the Prince Edward Distillery, visit their website, call them at 902-687-2586, or, better still (pun intended!), take the scenic northeastern shoreline route to Hermanville and visit the Distillery at 9985, Route 16.

Prince Edward Distillery, Hermanville, PEI

 

Whimsical T-Shirts at Prince Edward Distillery

True to tradition, when I visit a local producer, I bring home their product and create a recipe with it.  I decided to create a Vodka Tomato Sauce for pasta using Prince Edward Distillery’s potato vodka.  I find the vodka actually goes well with tomatoes and draws out the tomato flavour and makes it pop without adding a competing flavour to the dish.  The key, of course, is not to over-do it – less is often more and the idea is that the vodka enhance and contribute to the taste of the sauce, not overpower it.  My recipe creation follows.

Farfalle Pasta in Tomato Vodka Sauce

 

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[i] Source of Statistics:  Prince Edward Island Potato Board, 23 October 2012

Tomato Vodka Pasta Sauce

By Barbara99 Published: November 15, 2012

  • Yield:
  • Prep: 10 mins
  • Cook: 50 mins
  • Ready In: 60 mins

A rich, flavourful tomato sauce suitable for various types of pasta

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Heat oil and butter in large pot. Add onion, celery, green pepper, mushrooms, and garlic. Sauté 2-3 minutes over medium heat.
  2. Add diced tomatoes, salt, and pepper. Simmer over low heat 5-7 minutes.
  3. Whisk the corn starch with the cooled chicken stock until smooth.
  4. Stir tomato sauce, vodka, and chicken stock/cornstarch into mixture. Simmer 18-20 minutes, until slightly thickened.
  5. Stir in whipping cream, oregano, basil, chives, cayenne, red pepper flakes, and parsley. Simmer 7-10 minutes.
  6. Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions and drain. Add drained pasta to tomato sauce and toss to coat.
  7. Spoon pasta into serving dishes. Garnish with freshly grated Parmesan cheese, fresh basil, a spring of parsley, and halved cherry tomatoes.

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Follow the PEI Potato Farmer! From Field to Table

One crop we grow really well on this Island is potatoes.  Our PEI spuds are world-class quality and often win awards on the national stage.   According to statistics obtained through the Prince Edward Island Potato Board, 86,500 acres of potatoes were grown on the Island in 2012.  An economic impact study was completed in 2012 showing that the potato industry contributes over one billion dollars annually to the PEI economy, either directly or through spin-off effects.  Now, that’s no small potatoes!!!

Last spring, I was looking for a potato operation and a potato field that I could follow from planting through to harvesting specifically for this blog post entry.  It’s one thing to go into the supermarket and purchase a bag of potatoes but it is quite another to know where the potatoes come from and to watch them grow and I thought my readers would be interested to see some photographs of potato growing and harvesting on PEI.  One evening in mid-May, I was heading from Summerside to Charlottetown “through the 225” as the locals refer to one of the shortcut routes between the two cities, when I came across this rather large and odd-looking black machine pulling into a huge field. 

Filler Machine Loads Seed Potatoes Into Potato Planter in Warren Grove, PEI [19 May 2012]
Of course, curiosity got the best of me and I did a u-turn fairly quickly and drove into the field where I discovered four tractors and machines were working at preparing the soil, fertilizing, and planting the field with potatoes.  Lots of John Deere equipment moving in that field on a Saturday evening in May!

Preparing to Plant Russet Burbank Potatoes in Warren Grove, PEI [19 May 2012]
Well, I thought this was just very fortuitous timing!  I had found my field to follow!!!  It turns out the field in Warren Grove, near North River on the outskirts of Charlottetown, PEI, was being planted by Smith Farms of Newton, near Kinkora, in the central part of the Island.

Robert, the man driving the big John Deere tractor that was hauling the rather ominous looking black machine, was very willing to explain what the machine was.  I learned it is called the “filler machine” – it brings the cut potato seed from the warehouse to the field where it is then loaded into the planter.  I asked if it would be okay if I took some photographs of the machine as it filled the planter.  Robert explained that I’d have to be quick if I wanted to get a picture of it as it speedily fills the planter that backs in under it.  Quick isn’t the word for it – it’s more like ‘in a blink of an eye’ and then the planter pulls away from the filler machine and off it goes down the field to plant the spuds. 

Planting Potatoes in Warren Grove, PEI [19 May 2012]
According to the Prince Edward Island Potato Board, there are over 100 varieties of potatoes grown in PEI but the majority of the acreage is made up of the top 30 varieties.  The most common variety, Russet Burbank (which is what this field in Warren Grove was planted with), accounts for about 50% of the potato acreage grown on PEI.  The Russet is a multipurpose variety used at local processing plants to make frozen French fries as well as for food service and retail bags of table potatoes (because of its slender shape, the Russet makes a great choice for baked potatoes, in particular).  The Potato Board tells me that other common varieties grown on the Island include Superior (an early round white table variety), Goldrush (a long russet skin table variety), Yukon Gold (a yellow flesh table variety), Norland (a red skin, white flesh table variety), and Atlantic (a round white variety use to make potato chips.)

The Potato Board says, over the past three years, PEI seed and table potatoes have been shipped to over 30 countries besides Canada and the United States.  No matter where you are, chances are you may have sampled PEI potatoes!  The next time you are in your local supermarket, be sure to check the bags of potatoes to see if they may have come from the rich and fertile red soil of PEI, Canada. 

 

Bags of PEI Potatoes in Retail Store

On June 25th, I found the field was lined with neat rows of bright green leafy plants.  The potatoes were growing well!

Potatoes Starting to Grow – 25 June 2012

Over the next several weeks I would periodically drive by the field to see if the delicate white potato blossoms would appear.  Sure enough, on August 8th, I found they were out in blossom.

Potatoes Blossoms [8 August 2012]

Russet Burbanks in Blossom [8 August 2012]
In mid-October, it was time to harvest the potatoes.   I followed the windrowers and potato harvester in the field and spoke with Andrew Smith who told me these potatoes are destined for Cavendish Farms, a processing plant in New Annan, PEI, which makes frozen French Fries.  As you can see by the long slender length of these Russets, they are well-suited for French Fries!

Harvesting the Russet Burbank Potatoes in Warren Grove, PEI [17 October 2012]
There were literally dozens and dozens of seagulls following the harvester, looking for “left-over” potatoes in the field!

How many workplaces have a gorgeous backdrop of fall foliage like this one does!  And, I was lucky enough to spend part of an afternoon in this workplace, following the harvesting equipment.  There is nothing like the smell of fresh PEI soil turning up spuds on a crisp, sunny October afternoon!

Potato Harvesting in Warren Grove [17 October 2012]
Potato Harvesting in Full Swing in PEI [17 October 2012]
 

Potato Harvesting in PEI [17 October 2012]
The windrowers dig several rows of potatoes at once and move the potatoes over into one row.  This field had two windrowers working in it.  The harvester then comes along, also digging several rows at the same time, and picks up all the potatoes left by the windrowers.  This process speeds up the harvesting.  Andrew told me that when he moves the harvester down the length of the field after the two windrowers have first gone through, he is picking up potatoes from 11 drills, transferring them to the truck that drives alongside the harvester!  The truck then transports the potatoes to the warehouse.

Windrowing and Digging in the Evening [17 October 2012]
PEI weather is often unpredictable in fall (sometimes quite rainy) so potato farmers have to work with the weather which often means they dig potatoes late into the evening to ensure the crop gets out of the ground.

Potato Harvesting at Night [17 October 2012]
 I debated what I would make to showcase the Russet Burbank potatoes that came out of the Warren Grove field.  I settled on a potato puff.  The Russets are a lovely white flesh potato with a somewhat dry texture that makes them a good choice for this dish.  This is a suitable side dish that pairs particularly well with chicken, beef, or pork.

Duchess Potatoes Made with PEI Russet Burbank Potatoes

My thanks to Smith Farms of Newton, PEI, for allowing me to follow their potato planting and harvest cycle this year.

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Roasted Marinara Sauce on Halloween Pasta

Roasted Marinara Sauce with Sun-dried Tomato Pork Sausage on Halloween Pasta

I was looking for a meal to serve that would have a Halloween theme when I came across these wonderful orange and black Italian-made farfalle pasta.  I bought them not knowing how I would prepare and serve them.  They just looked so fun and season-appropriate that I couldn’t pass them by!  Served with locally-made sun-dried tomato and pork sausage tossed in a rich and flavourful homemade marinara sauce, and topped with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, this pasta dish was a real hit.  Add a freshly toasted garlic and cheese roll and a glass of red wine, and this meal is easily dressed up.

Italian-made Durum Wheat Semolina Farfalle Pasta

I am very lucky as we have a great little meat shop in Charlottetown, located at the Riverview Country Market on Riverside Drive.  Using locally-produced pork from Home Town Pork in Morell, PEI, they make several varieties of wonderful sausages onsite.  The variety I chose for this dish was sun-dried tomato and I was not disappointed – it was really good!  They tell me their sausages are all natural with no additives or preservatives.  I also dropped by our local “Liquid Gold” store and picked up two new products (will soon need extra cupboards to store all these oils and balsamic vinegars in!) — a bottle of oregano white balsamic vinegar and one of organic Tuscan herb infused olive oil were added to my growing collection!  Both were used in the marinara sauce and I also cooked the sausage in a small amount of the Tuscan olive oil.  Freshness matters and I find their products are super-fresh.

My recipe for the marinara sauce is my own creation.  Don’t be put off by the number of ingredients — it takes them all to make the flavour.  I like to roast the vegetables for the sauce because it gives them a distinct and rich flavour that I would classify as “full-bodied” in any dish.  After they are roasted, I break them up loosely with a potato masher.  There is no need to worry about getting them crushed completely at this point since that will occur later during the purée stage.  All that needs to happen at this point is that they are crushed enough to allow their juices and flavours to permeate the sauce while it cooks.  I like to use the immersion blender to purée the sauce in the stock pot.  I tend to like the sauce a bit on the chunky side so I don’t purée it completely smooth but that is a matter of personal taste.  If you don’t have an immersion blender, a food processor can, of course, be used – just make sure you let the mixture cool before placing it in the processor.  The sauce takes a bit of time to make but it is good (and the house smells divine in the process!).  This recipe makes about 3 1/2 cups but it is easily doubled.  The sauce also freezes really well which makes meal preparation quick and easy on a busy evening.  I cooked the sun-dried tomato pork sausage, then sliced it into thin slices (about 1/8th inch thick) before tossing it in the sauce and serving it over the pasta.

This was a fun dish to create and even more fun to eat, particularly with the orange and black Halloween pasta!

Halloween Pasta Served with Roasted Marinara Sauce

 

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Roasted Marinara Sauce

By Barbara99 Published: October 30, 2012

  • Yield: 3 1/2 cups

A rich, thick, flavourful tomato sauce that is a great accompaniment to pasta or pizza

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Cut vegetables into 1/2" - 1" pieces. Slice the parsnip slightly thinner. Place in a bowl and drizzle with olive oil, tossing to coat vegetables. Place on tin foil lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Roast for about 40 minutes until vegetables are slightly fork tender and edges of vegetables start to char slightly. Peel garlic. Transfer vegetables and garlic to stock pot and, with a potato masher, loosely break up the vegetable chunks.
  2. Add remainder of ingredients. Over medium-high heat, bring mixture to boil. Reduce heat and simmer over low heat for 45-50 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Remove from heat and discard bay leaf. Using an immersion blender, purée sauce to desired consistency. (Alternatively, let mixture cool and transfer to food processor to purée.)
  4. Toss with pasta (and meat, if using) or use as pizza sauce. Freezes well.

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“In a Pickle” – Mustard Pickle-Making, My Island Bistro Kitchen Style

Sweet Mustard Pickles

One of the most common fall flavours in many Island households surrounds pickle, chow, and relish-making.  I love the smell of fresh mustard pickles in the house – not so much the mess, the tedious job of peeling and cutting up the cucumbers, and the “distressing” task of peeling strong pickling onions – an activity sure to bring a tear to the eye!  In many Island households, a meal of any kind is not complete unless there are mustard pickles on the table.  So, for most of us true cooks, we endure the process knowing the end result is worth the effort.

There are as many recipes for mustard pickles as there are cooks on the Island.  There are any number of sites on the Internet that will give detailed and scientific instructions on how to make pickles.  As for me, I follow the tradition of my mother and grandmother.

Here are my hints and tips for ensuring a good batch of sweet mustard pickles.  At the end of the post, you will find the recipe I have used for mustard pickles for many years.

Assemble the Necessary Ingredients

Ingredients for Mustard Pickles

Pickling Cucumbers

Just like anything, fresh is always best.  Some say only cucumbers that have been picked no longer than 24 hours should be used.  Cucumbers that have been picked for days start to get soft and “punky” and are not good for pickling because they have already started to deteriorate and lose their freshness.   So, look for firm pickling cucumbers, sometimes referred to as “field cucumbers”.  Ask for them at your local farm stand and inquire when they were picked.

Onions

Look for firm, fresh onions.  Strong, fresh onions are needed for flavouring in the pickles.  Sometimes, but not always, there are bags of “pickling onions” available on the market.  These are smaller onions and are so named because they are a stronger tasting onion – you’ll quickly know their strength when you start to peel them!

I have no secret for avoiding the “tears” when peeling the onions.  Some claim if you hold the onions underwater while peeling them, that works.  Others say to peel them outside.  No matter what method I have tried, it’s a teary job!

Onions Cut For Mustard Pickles

Cutting the Cucumbers and Onions

I always peel the cucumbers.  Some cooks like to leave a few of the cucumbers with the peeling on them but I find this makes the pickles tough and I don’t particularly care for the appearance of them in the pickles.  Once the cucumbers are peeled, slice them in half, lengthwise, then halve them again.  Remove and discard all the seeds from each cut section.

 

Cutting Up the Cucumbers

 

I am not too fussy when I cut up the cukes and onions – I don’t worry about getting the pieces all perfectly uniform sizes.  I tend to like the cukes and onions cut in about ½”-3/4” pieces – any smaller and the pickles are starting to resemble relish.  This, of course, is a personal preference.  There is no right or wrong size of pickles.

Cauliflower and Red Pepper

While certainly not necessary, cut-up cauliflower flowerets and sweet red pepper can be added to the pickles and I always do add them.  The red pepper adds color and dresses the pickles up, both in the bottle and on the table.  The cauliflower adds texture and variety to the pickles.

Pickling Salt

For both taste and preserving the pickles over the winter as well as for color of the pickles, it is very important that proper pickling salt be used in the water/salt brine that is used to soak the cut-up cucumbers and onions.  This is a coarse salt specifically made for pickling and it will be marked on the label.  Never use fine iodized table salt in pickles as this will produce a cloudy sauce that is a poor and unappetizing color (e.g., sort of a mossy-green-yellow color).  It will also make the pickles taste too salty because the vegetables absorb too much of the salt.  I can always tell when I see a bottle of discoloured pickles that someone has made them using regular table salt.  The pickling salt is a slower dissolving salt.  For this reason, make sure you stir it into the water for the soaking brine really well and that it is fully dissolved before pouring the brine over the cukes and onions.  You don’t want any salt granules sitting on the cucumber mixture for hours.

Pickling Salt – An Essential Ingredient in Mustard Pickle-Making

Soaking the Vegetables

Unless you are using a recipe that specifically gives directions to the contrary, plan on soaking the cukes, cauliflower, and onions in the salt and water brine overnight or at least for 8-10 hours during the day if you are making the pickles in the evening.    Cucumbers have a lot of water in them so, in order to have crisp pickles, the excess water needs to be removed from them.  Soaking them in a slow-dissolving salt/water brine draws the natural water out of the cucumbers, opens their cells, and allows the mustard pickling sauce to penetrate them.  This gives the pickles greater flavour, good color, and a longer shelf life.

Add the red pepper (if using) after the veggies have been rinsed and drained (the peppers do not need to soak in the salt water brine).

Cucumbers Soaking in Salt/Water Brine

Draining the Vegetables

After the soaking period has ended, drain the vegetables thoroughly in a colander and rinse with cold water to remove any excess salt.  Then, let them drain for about an hour or so to get as much water drained off of them as possible.  If too much water is left on them, it will dilute the mustard sauce and make the pickles too runny.

Cucumbers Draining in Colander

Pickling Spice

Of course, the right mixture of pickling spice is necessary for flavourful pickles – the wrong combination of spices or too much or too little will leave you with pickles you won’t be satisfied with.  Pickling spice, as a product, is not always available on the store shelf and sometimes I have had to create my own mixture using some or all of the following:  mustard seed, whole allspice and cloves, coriander seed, red pepper flakes, bay leaves, cinnamon stick pieces, peppercorns, and whole or coarse pieces of dried ginger.  Whole spices (as opposed to dried) are said to be better because they will not cause the pickles to darken in color.  The look you are going for is that nice, bright mustard yellow color.

Making the Pickling Spice Sachet

You don’t want whole spices and junks of cinnamon stick or bay leaves making their way into the pickle jars and on to the plate so it is necessary to contain them in a sachet.  To make a pickling spice sachet, you will need a small piece of cheesecloth (available at fabric stores).  This will have a very loose weave so I usually double or even fold it over 3-4 times and then place 1-1 1/2 tablespoons of the pickling spice mixture in the centre.  Gather up the cheesecloth around the spice and tie it with a thread.  This sachet then gets dropped into the boiling vinegar and sugar mixture and left in during the entire pickle-cooking process.  It then gets removed just before bottling the pickles.  This sachet allows the vinegar and pickles to be infused and flavoured with the spices without having the spices directly in the pickle mixture when they are bottled.

Pickling Vinegar

Be sure to use vinegar that is specially labelled for pickling – it will usually have 7% acidity, making it stronger than table vinegar and will help to preserve the pickles longer.

Boiling Vinegar and Sugar

It is important to boil the majority of the vinegar the recipe calls for along with the sugar.  This helps the sugar to dissolve before the vegetables are added.  The heat from the boiling mixture will also help the flavours from the spices in the sachet to infuse the vinegar.

Boiling the Vinegar and Sugar

Making the Mustard Sauce

Mix part of the sugar the recipe calls for with the flour, dry mustard powder and any other spices.  Then add the remaining vinegar from the recipe ingredient list to make the paste for the pickle sauce.  To this paste, add about ¾ cup of the boiling vinegar that will have already been heated.  This “tempers” the paste it so it doesn’t go lumpy when added to the boiling vinegar already in the pot.

Making the Mustard Sauce

Cook the sauce slowly to thicken it and stir often to prevent scorching.  Be patient – this process can take several minutes.  The mixture should coat a spoon and drip very slowly off the spoon when the sauce is thick enough to add the vegetables.

Sauce Should Coat a Spoon When it is Thick Enough to Add the Vegetables

It is important that the sauce gets thickened to the right consistency before adding the drained vegetables as they will still have a lot of moisture in them and the sauce will not thicken any further after they have been added.

Heating the Vegetables

Heat the vegetables in the sauce slowly, stirring periodically – you want the veggies to stay crisp and crunchy, not be cooked to mush.

Heating the Vegetables in the Mustard Sauce

Bottling the Pickles

Bottling, of course, is very important – make sure the bottles are sterilized and hot when you bottle the hot pickles.  I have a large old pot that I fill with hot water and put on the stove to sterilize the bottles.  Make sure there are no nicks in the tops of the glass Mason jars and that you use new lids each time and that the rims are not dented or rusted.

Bottling the Pickles

 

Sweet mustard pickles are a fine addition to many entrées from “meat and potato” meals to casseroles to baked beans and fishcakes.  Pickles do take some time and know-how to make but nothing beats homemade mustard pickles that no store-bought version can match.

Mustard Pickles – The Finished Product

Do you make mustard pickles or have recollections of your mother or grandmother making mustard pickles?

 Mustard Pickles – My Island Bistro Kitchen Style

Ingredients:

• 8 cups pickling cucumbers, chopped
• 4 cups onions, chopped
• 2 cups cauliflower flowerets (apx. 1 small cauliflower head)
• 4 cups white pickling vinegar
• 3 1/2 cups sugar
• 1/2 – 2/3 cup all-purpose flour, depending on how juicy or thick you like pickles
• 1 1/2 tbsp tumeric
• 1 1/2 tbsp celery seed
• 1 tbsp mixed pickling spice, tied in a cheesecloth sachet
• 1/2 cup dry mustard
• 1/4 tsp ginger powder
• Pinch cayenne
• 1 small red pepper, chopped
• Coarse pickling salt

Method:

1. Peel the cucumbers. Slice in half, lengthwise. Slice in half again. Remove and discard the seeds. Cut cucumbers to desired size, apx. 1/2″ – 3/4″ pieces.
2. Peel the onions and cut into pieces similar in size to cucumbers.
3. Separate the cauliflower into individual flowerets.
4. Place cucumbers, onions, and cauliflower flowerets into a large bowl.
5. Make a brine of pickling salt and water using 1/2 cup coarse pickling salt to 4 cups of water. Pour over the vegetables, ensuring they are completely covered. (I use apx. 6 cups water and 3/4 cup pickling salt.) Let stand overnight or 8-10 hours.
6. Drain vegetables in a colander and rinse with cold water to remove any excess salt. Let vegetables drain for apx. 45-60 minutes. Add cup-up red pepper.
7. In a large stock pot, bring to a boil 3 cups of the vinegar and 3 cups of the sugar along with the pickling sachet made of pickling spice tied in cheesecloth. Boil 2-3 minutes.
8. Mix remaining 1/2 cup of sugar with the flour, tumeric, celery seed, dry mustard, ginger, and cayenne.
9. Add the remaining 1 cup of vinegar to the dry ingredients and whisk till smooth. Add apx. 3/4 cup of the hot vinegar-sugar mixture to this sauce. This will “temper” it and keep it from going lumpy when added to the hot liquid mixture in the pot. Stir and pour into the vinegar-sugar mixture in pot. Cook sauce over medium heat until thickened, stirring frequently to prevent scorching. When sauce coats a spoon and drips off slowly, it is thick enough to add the vegetables. (This could take 25-30 minutes.)
10. Add the drained vegetables to the thickened mustard sauce and cook over medium-low heat just until vegetables are heated through, apx. 12-15 minutes.

11. Bottle pickles while hot into hot sterilized bottles. Heat bottle lids and apply to bottle tops. Place rims on bottles, finger-tip tightening only. Listen for the “pop” sounds as the bottles seal over the next few hours. Store in cool area.

Yield: Apx. 7½  pint bottles

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Ruby Red Rhubarb

Rhubarb Marmalade on Fresh Biscuits

Over the years, many Island homes, particularly those in the country (including mine) have had (and many still do) a rhubarb patch. The tiny shoots of the perennial rhubarb plants poking through the earth are always considered a harbinger of Spring and a welcome one at that. After many long Winter months in Northeastern Canada, it’s always good to see this sign of life in the corner of the garden. In fact, some local groups on PEI host fund-raising “Rhubarb Socials” each June at which they serve desserts made with rhubarb so it appears the lowly rhubarb has gained some social status!

Rhubarb Signifies Spring

A number of years ago, I suggested planting a rhubarb crown (rhizomes) in the corner of our cottage garden. The idea was not met with grand enthusiasm but, nonetheless, I went to the garden center and landed home with two rhubarb crowns which did get planted (I knew they would once they were onsite!). Well, now that rhubarb is just the greatest thing ever planted! It grew alright – in fact, we now have more of a rhubarb “bush” than a patch! Some stalks are about 18” tall. Local supermarkets are currently selling rhubarb for $3.99/lb (Cdn $). In fact, I saw some at a local farm stand last Saturday where they were selling for $4.95 and they were not overly fresh either. Sometimes, we take for granted the value of what we have in our backyard gardens. In fact, in Spring 2011, I planted two rhubarb crowns in the backyard of my suburban home. I’m pleased to say they are doing very well – long, strong stalks (ribs) with huge triangular-shaped leaves. I can’t remove any stalks from these plants this year but, next year, I can harvest one-third of the produce and, the following year, as much as is available since the rhubarb will be well established by then.

In PEI, we harvest rhubarb from early-mid May until mid-June. Harvest when stalks are long and still slender as thicker stalks tend to be older and, therefore, tougher and more stringy. To harvest, grasp the rhubarb stalk down close to its root base and give it a good tug to pull it out of the ground. Immediately cut off and discard the bottom whitish part of each stalk. The early Spring stalks are the most tender and yield greater juiciness.

If you are buying rhubarb at a farm market or grocery store, look for stalks that look dry, have crispness to them and are not limp, soft, wilted, or showing signs of turning brown at the ends.

Rhubarb is available in many varieties and shades of color that range from green to stalks that are red-green speckled or graduated in color from red to green, to deep crimson red. When purchasing a rhubarb crown for your garden or when buying rhubarb stalks, I recommend looking for varieties that have a deep red color. They will have the most flavour and give the richest pink color to recipes. Stalks that are primarily green are less flavourful and do not add appealing color to culinary dishes. As a rough, general guideline, 1 pound of raw rhubarb will yield approximately 4 cups chopped.

There has long been a debate over whether rhubarb is a fruit or a vegetable. It is often referred to as the “pie plant” because one of the most common and recognizable uses of it is in rhubarb pie and we tend to think of dessert pies as being made with fruit, not vegetables. Rhubarb is generally considered to be a vegetable notwithstanding that, in 1947, a New York court decided that, since it was primarily used as fruit in the US, rhubarb would be considered a fruit for the purposes of regulations and duties. So, while rhubarb is often treated as a fruit in many culinary dishes, botanically and by general consensus, it appears to be more accepted as a vegetable.

Regardless whether it is a fruit or a vegetable (we’ll leave that to botanists and other scientists to make the definitive call on that), it is a very versatile ingredient in many recipes. From jams, marmalades, sauces, chutneys, and drinks to pies, tortes, puddings, muffins, and ice cream, there are an endless number of recipes in which to use rhubarb. While I don’t fancy it raw, it is not uncommon to find our young glasscutter hopping off the mower to head over to our rhubarb patch to grab a rhubarb stalk to snack on! Guess he must like the sour, tart taste better than I do!

Rhubarb freezes very well and we freeze a number of bags each Spring. Chopped and frozen in recipe-specific portions and labelled accordingly, rhubarb is then available to us year-round to use in our favourite recipes.

From a nutritional standpoint, rhubarb is a source of Vitamin C, calcium, potassium, and dietary fibre. Because rhubarb largely consists of water (one source claims it is 95% water), it has no cholesterol, fat, or sodium. However, because rhubarb is so tart, it needs sweetening so, adding other ingredients such as sugar, or combining it with fruits such as strawberries, apples, etc., will obviously alter the cholesterol, fat, and/or sodium content of the dish you make using rhubarb.

I have a multitude of favourite rhubarb recipes but one of my all-time favourites is this Rhubarb Marmalade (recipe follows). Combined with three citrus fruits, it has a tart, fresh taste and, best of all, it is the first of my jamming and preserving processes of the season. I use this rich-colored and flavourful marmalade on toast, biscuits, scones, and I particularly like a dollop of it on a warm cream custard.

Time to bring out the jam pots and bottles and capture some of this Springtime goodness before the rhubarb gets too old and tough to use. If you do try this recipe, please be sure to leave me a comment about your impressions of it.

Jamming and preserving season is officially underway!

Rhubarb Marmalade

 

Rhubarb Marmalade

Ingredients:

8 cups rhubarb, thinly sliced
4¼ cups sugar
1 large orange (or 1½ small oranges)
½ pink grapefruit
½ small lemon

Method:

Chop rhubarb into thin slices. Set aside.

Peel orange. Chop the pulp and place in bowl. Scrape the pith from the orange peeling and discard. Chop the peel into small pieces. Set aside.

Peel the 1/2 grapefruit or use a grapefruit knife to section the grapefruit pulp. Add pulp to the orange. Scrape the pith from the grapefruit peeling and discard. Chop the peel into small pieces. Set aside.

Peel the 1/2 lemon. Chop the pulp and add to orange and grapefruit pulp. Scrap the pitch from the lemon peeling and discard. Chop the peel into small pieces. Set aside.

In a large pot, place the rhubarb and sugar. Add the citrus pulp and peel. Stir over medium heat.

Rhubarb Marmalade Ingredients
Rhubarb Marmalade Ingredients

Place two small saucers in the freezer to chill. You will use these to test the marmalade to see if it gels.

Cook the fruit mixture, stirring occasionally, for approximately 1/2 hour. Test by placing a small amount of the marmalade on a chilled saucer. Gently shake the saucer back and forth to see if the marmalade has thickened and gels. If it does, it is done; if not, continuing cooking and testing at 5-minute intervals until mixture gels.

Boiling the Marmalade
Boiling the Marmalade

Sterilize the jars either by using the sanitizer setting on the dishwasher or by placing the jars in boiling hot water.

Fill sterilized jars, leaving approximately 1/4″ head room at jar top. Place lids and rims on jars.

Yield:  Apx. 5½ – 6 cups

1-DSC04775

Thank you for visiting “the Bistro” today.  There are lots of ways to connect with “the Bistro” through social media:

Join My Island Bistro Kitchen on Facebook
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Follow along on Instagram at “peibistro”

Maple Syrup Baked Beans (from My Island Bistro Kitchen)

My Island Bistro Kitchen’s Maple Syrup Baked Beans

Growing up, baked beans was a traditional Saturday night supper in our household.  While I haven’t continued the Saturday night tradition, I do frequently have baked beans on the menu.

Baked beans make a very economical dish and freeze well for reheating later in the microwave.  These are a staple packaged in meal-portion sized dishes in my freezer.  I will make up a large batch and then divide them into serving sized containers that will freeze well.  I serve baked beans with homemade bread and molasses and mustard pickles and sometimes tomato chow.  When prepared ahead, they make a quick and nutritious meal.

We know beans are a good source of fiber and protein so they are good for our diet.  Making your own homemade beans is not difficult although it is a somewhat lengthy process:  The beans have to be soaked in water overnight, pre-cooked for about an hour or so, then baked in the oven for about 3 hours.  The bonus of homemade beans, however, is that they taste so much better than canned beans off the store shelf.

I like to use yellow-eye beans as I find they cook well and are not hard as I find dark beans to be.  My grandmother always grew the dark beans solely for the purpose of drying them and using them to make baked beans.  I always found the beans to be very hard despite that she would have baked them in a bean crock in the wood stove oven for hours and hours.

Soaking the dried beans accomplishes three things:

1) It softens the beans and lessens the cooking and baking times (the beans also expand to double or triple their size in the soaking process);

2) It allows the beans to absorb the liquid (become rehydrated) thus they will cook more evenly and hold their shape when baked (i.e., they won’t split open or become mushy)

3) It removes the indigestible complex sugars, making the beans easier to digest.

The jury is still out on adding a small amount of baking soda to the cooking process of the beans.  Some say doing so will make the beans more tender, particularly if the water is hard.  Others claim the soda may also aid in digesting the beans while others subscribe to the theory that the baking soda does nothing for the beans.  My mother always added the baking soda to the beans and I continue the practice of adding 1/2 tsp of baking soda when cooking beans.  I figure 1/2 tsp will not harm the beans and, if it does do some good, so much the better.

Beans, on their own with no seasonings, can be very bland and tasteless.  I don’t think my grandmother added much to her baked beans other than some molasses, brown sugar, and water.  My mother always added some onion and ground mustard along with molasses, brown sugar, and water but very little else.  I like to gently spice the beans up a bit and, over the years, have perfected a recipe that suits my taste.  When an ingredient calls for a “dash”, I use an actual measuring spoon that has the “dash” as a measurement.  Spices, and the amount added, are very much a personal preference so each cook should adjust them to his or her own tastes.  My recommendation, of course, is to make the recipe the first time using the measurements called for and then decide what needs to be adjusted for the next time.  As well, if there is a particular spice that you absolutely do not like, simply omit it.  The recipe that I have developed does not use large amounts of any one spice.  I did this because I still wanted the original bean taste and didn’t want any particular spice to overpower the natural taste of a traditional baked beans dish.

Some like to add salt pork, regular bacon, or cut-up weiners to the baked beans.  I prefer just the beans but that is a personal preference and meats can certainly be added, if desired.

As those of you who have been following my blog will know, I recently went to Woodville Mills, near Cardigan, PEI, to visit a sugar shack that was in operation producing maple syrup.  Since I like to add some maple syrup to my baked beans, I thought this was a good time to share my recipe with you so, here it is.  Enjoy!

My Island Bistro Kitchen’s Maple Syrup Baked Beans

Ingredients:

 Method:

Place beans in large bowl.  Add enough cold water to completely cover the beans. Cover.   Soak overnight.

Soaking the Dried Beans
Soaking the Dried Beans

Drain soaked beans in colander.  Discard water.  Place beans in large pot and add 4 cups fresh cold water.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and add 1/2 tsp baking soda.  Cover and simmer for 45-60 minutes, stirring occasionally and fork-testing beans for doneness.  Beans should still be firm but not hard when cooked.  Do not overcook or beans will become mushy and lose their shape.

Drain the beans in large colander, reserving the liquid.  Set liquid aside. Rinse the beans with cold water.  Place beans in 2-quart casserole or small roaster pan.  Add remaining ingredients and 3 cups of the reserved liquid.  Stir gently until well combined.

Ingredients for Maple Syrup Baked Beans
Ingredients for Maple Syrup Baked Beans

Bake, covered, in 300F oven for about 3 hours or until beans are fork-tender.  Check beans 2-3 times during baking and add more liquid if needed.

Baked Beans
Baked Beans