Last-chance canning

Over the summer, I put up peach butter, white-nectarine jam, fig preserves, brandied cherries and other seasonal gems. So many beautiful jars that I’ve run out places to store them. Lately, I’ve had to warn house guests to watch their step — lest they stump a toe on a jar of jam that’s yet to be put away in my nonexistent “cool, dark” pantry.

Like most people who love to preserve food, summer is when I get my biggest rush. So many gorgeous strawberries and blackberries. So little time to organize my finished put-ups.

But fall has its rewards, too.

In fact, autumn is the clearinghouse moment for smart canners, the opportune time for turning the garden’s last peppers, squash, onions, cabbage, cauliflower and green tomatoes into pickles, relishes, chowchows and chutneys. Before frost reaps these last vestiges of summer’s bounty, you’d do well to pluck those green tomatoes off the vine and turn them into something delicious, something useful.

And when you cook up that first batch of winter collards, a pot of beans and a round of cornbread, you’ll be glad you’ve put up these vinegar-y condiments. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no finer cold-weather bowl than rice topped with peas, beans or greens and a dollop of cool, palate-tickling relish.

Andrea Weigl — the food writer for the Raleigh News & Observer and the author of “Pickles & Preserves” (UNC Press, $18) — agrees. “I didn’t really understand chowchow, and I didn’t really understand pepper relish, either, until I ate them on beans,” says the Pittsburgh native. “And then I got it. That tinch of acid, those pickled vegetables, are just the perfect complement on that rich fatty pot of beans. That’s when the light bulb really went off for me.”

Where I grew up in deep South Georgia, we didn’t do chowchow, either. As I kid, I thought it sounded kind of exotic and kind of country at the same time. So what the heck is chowchow anyway?

“It is essentially an end-of-season catchall relish to use up whatever’s still growing when the frost sets in,” writes Kevin West in his gorgeous preserving manual, “Saving the Season” (Knopf, $35). “Cabbage is usually the base ingredient, although cauliflower sometimes shares the bill. Green tomatoes often play a role, although they don’t have to, and some people add cucumbers or celery. Onion and pepper almost always make an appearance, and the overall flavor profile is established by mustard and celery seeds.”

A dear friend has taken to giving me little jars of store-bought watermelon-rind chowchow, purchased at a fancy Buckhead boutique, and I’m just crazy about the sweet-spicy stuff. I haven’t scored that recipe yet. But it was very much on my mind when I tested Weigl’s classic chowchow (made with cabbage and green tomatoes). So much so that I upped the sugar by one cup and substituted a good portion of apple-cider vinegar for the white vinegar she prescribes. It turned out delicious — the first thing I reached for when I boiled a pot of pink-eyed peas the other day.

While my fall canning sprees tend to take a decidedly vinegar turn, I’d be remiss not to mention the wonderful fruit butters, preserves and jams that grace the season. These comforting spreads are heavenly with warm buttery biscuits, scones, waffles, plain toast or cardboard, probably. Weigl piqued my interest in her Pear Honey (like a fruit butter or apple sauce) and Cranberry-Apple Chutney. (She also does a Refrigerator Sweet Potato Butter that sounds awfully autumnal.) West teases with Apples in Calvados Jelly and Asian Pears in Ginger-Lemongrass Water. And Liana Krissoff, in “Canning for a New Generation” (Stewart, Tabori, & Chang, $24.95), offers up Pear and Ginger Preserves.

I tried Krissoff’s pears, subtle yet perky with ginger, and declared them worthy of placing alongside my favorite put-ups of summer, which happen to be Weigl’s wonderful Peach-Orange Marmalade and Krissoff’s luscious Slow-Roasted Fig Preserves with Lemon. Made from essentially four ingredients (pears, ginger, sugar, lemon), the Pear and Ginger Preserves are a tribute to the inherent flavor of fresh fruit, which needs little or nothing to make it taste good.

So should you happen by for coffee and biscuits one autumn day, please forgive the clutter. I may not have a picturesque canning pantry with a glass door, but I’ve a got a bedroom floor and a dining-room table. I’m canning all fall. Mind your step.


Hands on: 2 hours

Total time: 14 to 26 hours (includes 12- to 24-hour brining time)

Makes: 9 pints

I made this chowchow with what I thought looked like smallish heads of cabbage — and ended up with 12 pints! So you may want to have a few extra jars handy. I also tweaked this recipe to taste: Author Andrea Weigl calls for two cups of sugar; I used three. I also used a mixture of apple-cider vinegar and white vinegar.

6 green tomatoes, diced

2 medium heads cabbage, shredded

1 large yellow onion, diced

1 small green bell pepper, diced

1 small red pepper, diced

2-3 jalapenos, seeded and diced

¼ cup pickling salt

2 cups water

6 cups white vinegar

2 cups granulated sugar (or more to taste)

2 tablespoons celery seeds

1 tablespoon mustard seeds

2 teaspoons ground mustard

2 teaspoons turmeric

Place green tomatoes, cabbage, onion, bell pepper, red pepper and jalapenos in a large nonreactive container with a lid. Add enough ice water to cover the vegetables, and add the salt. Stir, cover and let sit for 12-24 hours.

Drain and rinse the vegetables in a colander several times until the saltiness is to your liking.

Place vegetables in a large stainless-steel stockpot or enamel Dutch oven. Add the water, vinegar, sugar, celery seeds, mustard seeds, ground mustard and turmeric. Bring the mixture to a boil. (Weigl says to remove at once for a crispy chowchow; I boiled mine until the vegetables were slightly wilted, about 2-3 minutes.)

Pack the chowchow into hot, sterilized jars, leaving ¼ inch of headspace. Process the jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Let the relish sit for one month before eating.

Adapted from “Pickles & Preserves” by Andrea Weigl (UNC Press, $18)

Per 2-tablespoon serving: 20 calories (percent of calories from fat, 6), trace protein, 4 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, trace fat (no saturated fat), no cholesterol, 2 milligrams sodium.

Pear and Ginger Preserves

Hands on: 90 minutes

Total time: 90 minutes

Makes: 4 to 5 half-pint jars

Author Liana Krissoff suggests cutting the ginger into brunoise. Here's how: Peel the ginger, and cut into super-thin rounds. Stack the rounds, and cut into matchsticks; then cut into cubes. That way, she says, you get a bite of ginger with every bite.

3 pounds pears, peeled, cored and diced (about 7 cups)

3 tablespoons finely diced fresh ginger

Grated zest of one lemon

3 tablespoons strained fresh lemon juice

1½ cups granulated sugar

Sterilize the jars and keep them in the canning pot. Put a small plate in the freezer and put the flat lids in a heat-proof bowl.

Put the pears, ginger, lemon zest, lemon juice and sugar in a wide, 6- to 8-quart preserving pan. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the pears are very soft and translucent and a small dab of the jam spooned onto the chilled plate and returned to the freezer for a minute becomes somewhat firm (it will not gel), 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir gently to distribute the fruit in the liquid. Ladle boiling water from the canning pot into the bowl with lids. Using a jar lifter, remove the sterilized jars from the canning pot, carefully pouring the water from each one back into the pot, and place them upright on a folding towel. Drain the water off the jar lids.

Ladle the hot jam into the jars, leaving ¼ inch head space at the top. Use a damp paper towel to wipe the rims of the jars; then put a flat lid and ring on each jar, adjusting the ring so that it’s just tight. Return the jars to the water in the canning pot, making sure the water covers the jars by at least 1 inch. Bring to a boil, and boil for 5 minutes to process. Remove the jars to a folded towel, and do not disturb for 12 hours. After 1 hour, check that the lids have sealed by pressing down on the center of each; if it can be pushed down, it hasn’t sealed, and the jar should be refrigerated immediately. Label the sealed jars and store.

Adapted from “Canning for a New Generation” by Liana Krissoff (Stewart, Tabori and Chang, $24)

Per 1-tablespoon serving: 33 calories (percent of calories from fat, 2), trace protein, 8 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, trace fat (no saturated fat), no cholesterol, trace sodium.

Mrs. Dorsey Brown’s Green Tomato Pickle

Food writer Kevin West includes a funny story about the quest for this recipe, which he attributes to a Baltimore church lady, circa the 1970s. He quotes a rhapsodic eater as declaring this pickle as the "only thing to eat with roast beef." The pickles cook for a full hour, which renders them into more of a relish — perfect for hot dogs, hamburgers and adding to potato salad and the like. I tried them after two days, and the results, as West writes, are "divine."

Hands on: 90 minutes

Total time: 7 1/2 hours (includes 6-hour brining time)

Makes: 3½ to 4 1/2 pints

4 pounds green tomatoes

1 green bell pepper

1 red bell pepper

1 pounds white onions

1 or 2 dried hot chilies, split (remove seeds to moderate heat to taste)

½ cup kosher salt

2 ¼ cups apple-cider vinegar

1/3 cup water

2 cups organic sugar

¼ cup molasses

1 teaspoon freshly cracked pepper

2 teaspoons celery seeds

2 tablespoons mustard seeds

Halve the green tomatoes, trim the stem and blossom ends, and cut into ½-inch slices. Halve and core the peppers, and cut crosswise into ½-inch slices. Thinly slice the onions. Combine all the vegetables as well as the chilies in a large nonreactive mixing bowl, and toss with the salt. Set aside for six hours.

Pour off the salty liquid, and cover the vegetables with fresh water for 15 minutes. Drain again.

Put the vegetables in a large pot with the remaining ingredients. Taste, and add more chilies if necessary—it should be pleasant burn. Bring to a boil, and simmer for 1 hour, stirring no more than necessary, to avoid breaking down the vegetables.

Using a slotted spoon, evenly divide the cooked vegetables among seven prepared ½-inch pint jars, and cover with the hot liquid, leaving ½ inch head space. Run a skewer or other skin implement around the inside edge to remove air pockets, and top with more liquid, if necessary. Seal the jars, and process in a boiling-water bath for 10 minutes. Cure for at least 2 weeks before using, to allow the flavors to blend and mellow.

Adapted from “Saving the Season” by Kevin West (Knopf, $35)

Per 1-tablespoon serving: 24 calories (percent of calories from fat, 4), trace protein, 6 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, trace fat (no saturated fat), no cholesterol, 176 milligrams sodium.