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Saving the Season: Canning at Surfas

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Mon, Nov 9, 2009 at 9:07 AM

The test kitchen at Surfas in Culver City was filled with a standing room-only crowd on Saturday morning for their weekly free cooking demo. Behind the range was local food blogger Kevin West as well as Bettina Birch of BeeGreenFarm in the Three Rivers, California--a regular vendor at both Surfas and the Echo Park farmers' market. We spotted Top Chef alum and Bazaar sous chef Marcel Vigneron skirting the edge of the audience, but the demo was far from his preferred realm of postmodern cooking. With crates of fuyu persimmions and darkly shaded Black Arkansas apples from BeGreenFarm, Kevin and Bettina taught the basics of homemade preserves and canning. As Marcel went on to shop--possibly for some new chemical gelling agent--the simple yet somewhat magical ability of pectin (which occurs naturally in many fruits) and sugar combing with heat to take a pot of fruit and liquid from a sloshing soup to a thickened jam was on display.

click to enlarge Kevin West and Bettina Birch - WILLY BLACKMORE
  • Willy Blackmore
  • Kevin West and Bettina Birch

With recipes inspired and informed by both the seasonal crop of fruit and the upcoming holidays, the sweet/savory persimmon apple chutney--spiced with ginger, mustard seeds and dried chile--and a classically orange and cinnamon-scented tart cranberry jam Birch and West demonstrated would pair wonderfully with roasted turkey. The cooking of both is fairly simple and straightforward, but to watch the process of actually canning these products was the most informative part of the demo. With its vats of boiling water, so many glass jars and the potential of botulism and other food safety concerns, home canning can be a daunting task, but the primer given by Birch and West showed how simple the process actually is.

click to enlarge WILLY BLACKMORE
  • Willy Blackmore

The Surfas staff put together samples of the chutney, served on bread with burrata cheese, while the cranberry jam was taste tested straight out of the pot, still slightly warm. Other canned goods--various preserves, pickles and applesauce--were on hand to taste as well, courtesy of West's prolific home canning efforts. The sum total of our grazing has us more than convinced that canning at home is well worth the effort.

click to enlarge WILLY BLACKMORE
  • Willy Blackmore

click to enlarge Black Arkansas Apples - WILLY BLACKMORE
  • Willy Blackmore
  • Black Arkansas Apples

Chunky Cranberry Jam with Ginger and Orange Zest

From: Kevin West

Yield: 1 pint

15 ounces cranberries

1 apple (Arkansas Black or Granny Smith) peeled, cored and sliced into ½" chunks

2 cups sugar (for an approximate 1:1 ratio of fruit to sugar)

1 tablespoon fresh ginger or crystallized ginger

3" cinnamon stick

zest of 1 orange, cut as finely as possible

1 tsp vodka (or brandy, Cointreau or gin)

¼ cup chopped pecans (or walnuts or pistachios)

1. Rinse cranberries and put in a large saucepan with 1 cup of water, the apple, ginger, cinnamon stick and orange zest. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes until the berries pop.

2. Add sugar to the kettle and return to a gentle boil, stirring constantly. Once the sugar has fully dissolved, add alcohol and nuts and cook for 2-3 minutes more, stirring carefully to prevent scorching. Because cranberries have so much pectin, the mixture will quickly reach the jell point, so once it begins to thicken in the pot, turn off heat and test for a jell set.

3. Once a jell set is achieved, remove cinnamon stick and ladle hot jam into prepared ½ pint jars and seal. (Work quickl: you won't believe how fast the pectin in this recipe sets up.) Process sealed jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

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