In case you haven’t noticed the 8 inches of snow outside, it’s winter. Although I miss our beautiful summer fruits and vegetables, wintertime cooking can be very satisfying. Lots of soups and stew and hearty braises. And certainly wintertime is the perfect season for baking. Who can resist the allure of baking cookies on a snowy day? Not me! When the snow was coming down hard Friday afternoon, Zuzu and JR helped me whip up a batch of my grandmother’s Halfway Cookies.
Most people assume that I don’t do any canning in the winter because there are so few fruits and vegetables that are in season. But that’s not entirely true. I can much less often in the winter, but there are a few canning projects that I like to do at this time of year.
First, of course, winter is the perfect time of year to can citrus fruits, which are actually better now than in the summer. You can make all kinds of marmalade, for example. I have experimented with orange and grapefruit marmalades myself, but the truth is that it’s not my favorite project. Marmalade is very labor-intensive and I don’t particularly care for the final product.
For my money, I’d rather make curds with the beautiful citrus fruits that are in the grocery stores right now. Citrus curds are rich, eggy custards that can elevate your basic pound cake, scone or bowl of yogurt into an indulgent treat. I follow the Food in Jars recipe for Meyer Lemon Curd and I have also adapted it to make Key Lime curd. Just replace the 1/2 cup lemon juice with 1/2 cup of Key Lime juice. Key limes are quite small, so it will take a lot of them to make a 1/2 cup of juice. Luckily, you often buy Key limes in large bags. Lime curd is scrumptious on strawberries.
Lemon and lime curd can be processed for shelf-stability, but it is not necessary to do so. This recipe makes a small batch and it will last for weeks in the fridge. If you see beautiful citrus fruits in your grocery store, I encourage you to buy a bunch of them and pick up an extra half-dozen eggs to try your hand at making a curd. Once you try this delicacy, you will find any number of ways to use it.
The other wintertime canning project that I enjoy is making savory jellies. Savory jellies can easily be made with supermarket ingredients and often use dried fruit, so they are perfect for this time of year. They are delicious for spreading on a sandwich or as elegant addition to a cheese tray. This spicy-sweet jelly is one of my husband’s favorite. It is quite beautiful to look at in the jar with the brightly colored flecks of pepper. This recipe makes a small batch, so if you do not want to process the jelly for shelf-stability, you can simply store the jars in your fridge or give them away as gifts.
Adapted from The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving
1/2 cup finely sliced dried apricots
3/4 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1/4 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
1/4 cup finely chopped jalapeno peppers, seeds and veins removed*
3 cups sugar
1 pouch liquid pectin
Soak the dried apricots in vinegar and let stand for a minimum of four hours.
If you are processing the jelly for shelf-stability, prepare canning pot and 3 8 oz. jars with their lids.
Pour apricots and vinegar into a large, deep saucepan. Add the chopped onion and peppers and stir in the sugar. Bring to a boil over high heat. When the mixture is boiling hard, add the liquid pectin, stirring to combine. Bring back to a boil. Boil for two minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.
To process for shelf-stablity, follow good water-bath canning procedures, leaving 1/4 inch headspace in each jar and process for 10 minutes.
If not processing for shelf-stability, dunk 3 8 oz. jars into boiling water. Carefully fill the jars with the hot jelly and cover. Store in the refrigerator. Allow at least a day for the jelly to firm up before using.
*As always, please use care when working with hot peppers. I recommend wearing rubber gloves.