Monday, January 13, 2014

Opening Jars in Winter

Aji limon hot peppers in sherry - NOT a science experiment
It may look like a science experiment but it’s actually a jar of lemon peppers  (aji limon Capsicum baccatum)– some ripe, some not so much – that I preserved in sherry last fall. The jar sits at the back of the fridge where the peppers are easy to pull out and add to all kinds of things: Thai shrimp soup, quesadillas, stews, whatever.


Today, I dropped two into the black bean soup I’m making. They add just the right amount of heat (about 2 large or 3 small for a 4-quart pot of soup usually does it for me and my heat-sensitive friends; my husband and when he’s here, our son, usually add more heat via a sprinkling of the dried aji limons we keep in a jar in the pantry).

The sherry-filled jar of lemon peppers is only one of a collection of jars and freezer bags of stuff that I put by from last year’s garden. It’s a treasure trove that in winter makes it possible to create an actual meal with little actual work. Yes, it’s plenty of work in the summer and early fall, but once it’s done you can sit back and bask in all that preserved glory.
Salsa, pasta sauce, tomatoes, etc. dried aji limon in the squat jar

On winter days, especially during days with the kind of bone-cracking cold that the Polar Express (yes, I know, VORtex) treated us to recently, soups and stews are what’s for dinner. Putting together something warm, delicious and nourishing inside of 15 minutes simply by opening jars and bags and whatnot from what you’ve produced yourself (along with Mother Nature, of course) is incredibly satisfying, to say nothing of economical. And it lets you dump things together, cover the pot, and go sit under the quilt on the sofa in front of the fire with a book or the news while you’re waiting for it to cook. (Or in our case, it lets you suit up, walk the dog, then haul in the wood for that fire, but never mind. It’s always something.).

While it’s great to have a store of homemade condiments, ingredients, and cooking sauces that you’ve made yourself, it’s also important to know what exactly you’ll actually use so you don’t end up with wastage.  Took me a while.

Everything dumped into a pot to simmer
Years ago, I got so carried away with the garden and fruit trees’ abundance combined with the plethora of recipes available, that I ended up with stacks of stuff moldering on the cellar shelves. I canned everything I could get my hands on, (and envisioned my children eating all of it – Hah!). I hauled the filled jars down there, then, years later when the moisture had attacked the lids (and then the stuff inside), I hauled them back up again to dump the contents of the jars, one by one, onto the compost heap. Wasteful of time, energy and produce. 

Over the years, I’ve learned. I now keep tabs on what we and those we love will actually not only eat, but also enjoy. Hence: spaghetti sauce, salsa, jarred tomatoes and home-made V-8, but not green tomato mincemeat or tomato marmalade; strawberry jam with walnuts and Cointreau but not rhubarb chutney; only two quarts of pickled jalapenos, not ten; two pints of pickled watermelon rind, not four quarts.

Being more circumspect about what and how much I put up doesn’t mean I don’t still experiment.  So many recipes, so little time. Year before last, I canned harrissa, a tomato-and chili-based condiment for Morrocan-y things, the recipe for which I found in the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. I put up ten half-pints and only used two here at home. Fortunately, our son used one to make wild goose stew from the Canada geese his father shoots, and loved it. So, I gave him all of the remaining jars. I didn’t put up any harissa this year, but plan to make more this fall, using both the Ball recipe and an alternative one that I found in a magazine. Something new and different.
Black bean soup  ready for cheese, pesto, sour cream, whatever

Having stuff like this in the cabinet and freezer feels unbearably virtuous. But for those for whom a smug sense of virtue doesn’t quite do it, (and heaven knows that only goes so far), the more important part of the exercise is what you end up with. Healthy, economical comfort food in no time flat.

Black Bean Soup

2 quarts of turkey stock (made from the remains of the Thanksgiving turkey and frozen that weekend – or 2 quarts of chicken stock)
3 tins of black beans (organic if possible)
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic (cut from the hardneck that are hanging on the porch and that are already starting to send up green shoots way too soon; what’s THAT about?!)
chopped sweet pepper, or about a cup of frozen chopped sweet pepper from your freezer
1 pint of salsa
2 or three hot peppers –whatever you’ve got
1 tblsp smoked paprika
2 tblsp Worcestershire sauce
a sploosh of sherry (about ¼ cup) if you want
salt and pepper

In a heavy pot, sauté the onion and garlic in a splash of olive oil until the onion is clear-ish. Add the peppers and sauté for another few minutes. Add stock (doesn’t have to be completely thawed), beans and everything else. Cover and simmer for about an hour. Serve with cheese on top or some fresh cilantro or maybe a dab of cilantro pesto or basil pesto (we make it during herb season and freeze it in little packets of plastic wrap) or a dollop of sour cream or all of the above if you’re feeling in need of major indulgence. It’s winter. Why not?

3 comments:

  1. Yum! Thanks for the common sense advice and the bean soup recipe, which I'll certainly try. Just opened a jar of homemade applesauce with cinnamon and wish I'd had time to can more.

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  2. Lena, homemade applesauce with cinnamon sounds great! Mixed with yogurt for breakfast, in applesauce cake, oatmeal and applesauce bars, on grilled chicken...Your own tree?

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  3. Hi Nancy,

    Couldn't agree more! I am so exhausted at the end of the growing season and sometimes I wonder... However, when I open up those jars and get those vegetables out of the freezer I know exactly why I worked so hard. We just have the most amazing dinners, every day!

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