Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Maxine's Marvelous Relish

This recipe holds a lot of sweet memories of my mom and my stepfather, Cam, who passed away several years ago. He was a kind and wonderful man, and a passionate math teacher. One year they made dozens of jars of this relish as Christmas gifts, and it is one of the most delicious things I have ever tasted. It is particularly tasty with pork chops. It's one of those recipes that is more than the sum of its parts.

The recipe comes from Cam's mother, Maxine, who was a truly marvelous wild woman. My mom dated Cam in high school and college, but they broke up because as she puts it, "he joined a fraternity and turned into a jerk." Immediately thereafter, my mom transferred to the University of Hawaii and spent the next semester having tons of fun hanging out at Maxine's place in Waikiki! My mom and Cam finally got back together many years later and were marvelously happy together.

Late summer is the only time you can find this combination of fruits and vegetables all at once. There are still tons of peaches, peppers, and tomatoes at the market, and early apples and Bartlett pears are just arriving.

5 peaches
5 pears
5 tomatoes
5 onions
2 red peppers
3 green peppers
6 C. sugar
1 quart vinegar
1 T. ground allspice
1 T. mustard seeds

Chop all fruits and vegetables into about 1/2-inch dice. Bring to a boil in a large pot with sugar and vinegar. Simmer 45 minutes. Add allspice and mustard, and simmer another 45 minutes. Seal in sterilized pint or half-pint jars with hot 2-piece lids, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Process in boiling water bath for 20 minutes (adding 10 more minutes at 5000ft, 15 more at 7000ft). Makes about 12 pints.

Monday, August 27, 2012


This year, I swear we're going to get it right. Pears are really tricky to ripen properly, unless you grow Bartletts, which can actually ripen on the tree. That's what most people have, so I've never actually met anyone who could tell me how this all works.

Finally, I read this great article from Oregon State University about the cold storage requirements of different varieties.

We have an heirloom variety called White Doyenne. It was once a major commercial variety, but it is very susceptible to fire blight, so when varieties with improved resistance came out, its popularity declined. We don't get much fire blight here in New Mexico, so I thought we'd try it out.

I knew that these pears had to be picked green, otherwise they will rot on the tree. It turns out that most varieties, such as Bosc, D'Anjou, Comice and many others, also need to be stored for a period of time in cold temperatures before they even develop the capacity to ripen. The cold stimulates the development of certain compounds that cause ripening. In fact, if you have a period of cold weather toward the end of the season, it can cause premature ripening, which is a problem for commercial pear growers.

Commercially grown pears are stored at 31F for a period of one to four months before distribution, after which they can be ripened on the counter the way we're all used to doing. This article from Washington State University actually describes the results of storage at temperatures of 40F and higher on ripening, and it turns out the optimum temperature for quickest development of ripening capacity is 50F. Pears that need a month at 31F only need a couple weeks at 50F. Of course, being ready to ripen earlier means you actually can't hold them as long. Fascinating stuff! I actually kind of wish that was my job, to study pear ripening.

So, I checked the temperature of the drawer at the bottom of my fridge, and it is actually just about 35F, so I should be able to hold them for probably three months. The plan is to take a few out and try ripening them on the counter after about a month, see how it goes, then maybe wait another month and try another few, to determine how long this particular variety needs for cold storage. And it's important to check them periodically to make sure they're not going bad, because we've had that happen too - open up a bag of pears that's been in the fridge only to find they've all rotted.

Wish us luck!!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Pickled Peaches

I've been doing lots of fun canning projects with my friends Laura and Amy! They both have peach trees with these beautiful tiny, thin-skinned peaches, which are perfect for making pickled peaches...

My aunt Laura has fond memories of a recipe my great aunt Lois used to make, so I thought it would be neat to try. They are spicy, tangy, sweet, and gorgeous in the jar, almost luminous. They would be great with roasted meats, or as a small dessert.

We used the recipe from Linda Ziedrich's Joy of Pickling, but she actually uses the open-kettle method, which I don't trust and Cooperative Extension no longer considers safe. We peeled the peaches by blanching them briefly, which cooks them slightly, and it's true that a boiling water bath after that would probably cook them too much. But it's tricky to keep everything hot enough to really seal, and sure enough - my lids popped up and the top fruit started to turn a bit brown, so I just put them in the fridge. Next time I think I'll just leave the skins on, and do the boiling water bath. Here's the modified recipe.

1 cinnamon stick, broken
1 tsp. mace or nutmeg
10 thin slices fresh ginger
1 tsp. allspice berries
1/2 tsp. whole cloves
3 c. sugar
2 1/2 cups water
3 1/2 cups white vinegar
7 pounds small, firm peaches

Combine all but the peaches in a large nonreactive pot, and bring to a boil. Wash peaches very thoroughly, and pack into sterilized quart jars (or, I found these cool pint-and-a-half jars at Lowe's). Pour boiling syrup over, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Wipe rims with a clean cloth and put on hot two-piece lids. Process in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes (don't forget to add 10 minutes at 5000 feet, 15 minutes at 7000 feet). Makes 4 quarts.