Adventures in preserving food

I hate to see things go to waste … perennials that need dividing … cardboard boxes … plastic bins and shapes … and food grown in the garden or found on trees … I don’t want to preserve every fruit I come across but … sometimes it’s fun to see what you can do with stuff. So here are a few of my adventures with keeping good food from going to waste …

So far, I’ve got three things to talk about: pumpkin pudding (2008), verdurette (2012), and crab apples (2013).

June 2016 update: added rhubarb (and gooseberries) at the bottom.


Pumpkin pudding … aftermath of a Jack-o-Lantern (2008)

Carved pumpkins are for Hallowe’en … but surely the stuff we scrape out of them must be good for something too! Several years ago, I just kept the seeds, cleaned them up, and did the usual dried pumpkin seeds sprinkled with soy sauce.

UPDATE (1 Nov. ’13):  this link has a good recipe; read the comments for flavouring ideas!

Pumpkin seeds, coated with soy sauce, toasted in the oven.

Pumpkin seeds, coated with soy sauce, toasted in the oven.

But all that pumpkin `meat’ was still there … and it just didn’t seem right that the composter should get to eat it … So I cooked it down, with some butter, strained out the liquid, and then froze it in small ziploc bags — a new side dish that no-one in the family but me appreciated. Oh well …

Then one year I had the idea to add sugar and cinnamon, to see what that might bring. Oh my … heaven! Like eating pureed candy!

Raw pumpkin chunks from two pumpkins.

Raw pumpkin chunks from two pumpkins.

Pumpkin chunks being cooked down

Pumpkin chunks being cooked down

So — take the chunks of pumpkin from a carving project, put them into a very large heavy-bottomed pot, add maybe 2 tbsp butter, and let it slowly cook down — the pumpkin has a lot of water in it so no need to add any. Just stir from time to time, to avoid sticking and burning, and within about half an hour, the chunks are soft and easy to break apart.

I’d seen pumpkin in a can — it’s really thick and solid, not runny … yet this still has a lot of liquid in it. So — maybe I should strain it. Use whatever you have — a jelly bag (but that’s pretty small) or something more industrial, like a cone-shaped strainer I’d acquired from a neighbour. Perfect! Push down to remove most of the liquid — but not so much that it’s looking dried up. It needs to still be creamy enough, like a pudding.

Cooked pumpkin chunks, sugar, cinnamon, about to be pureed in the food processor

Cooked pumpkin chunks, sugar, cinnamon, about to be pureed in the food processor

Pumpkin puree in containers, pumpkin juice, toasted pumpkin seeds.

Pumpkin puree in containers, pumpkin juice, toasted pumpkin seeds.

Puree the results, a bit at a time, in the food processor. Originally, I would add the cinnamon and sugar at this point, and then pack it all into containers.

But now I return the pureed mash to the big pot, add the sugar and cinnamon, and then reheat a bit, to melt the sugar and meld the flavours. As for how much sugar and cinnamon … you’re going to have to judge the quantities yourself — start with a cup of sugar and a tsp of cinnamon, and go from there.

In the end, you have toasted pumpkin seeds, pumpkin juice (I never did find a way to use that), and of course a lot of very sweet creamy pumpkin pudding.

UPDATE (1 Nov ’13): I’ve found reference to this being called `pumpkin butter’. Here’s a recipe variation that sounds pretty fantastic — it’s got maple syrup!

The two pumpkins, carved.

The two pumpkins, carved.

And here are the pumpkins without their  seeds and contents.


Verdurette — saving all that rocket (a.k.a. arugula)! (2012)

There’s an herb I’ve had popping up in my veggie patch for many years — rocket. The leaves have a really peppery taste and are great added to a green salad — gives it a real punch! When it bolts, the flower stalk grows very tall, with little white flowers — and then there are hundreds of seed pods all along the stems — just gotta reproduce! Here’s a link with photos and info about it. Last year, there was just so much of it, late in the fall, I `had’ to find a way to use it up. Poking around the web, I came across reference to `verdurette’ and then googled that. Oh my! Like finding a tiny doorway in the far corner of the attic — and it opens out to a huge roof-top terrace!

Essentially, verdurette is the precursor to bouillon cubes: mass quantities of garden greens mixed with almost equal amounts of coarse salt, then packed into jars for storage — one of the oldest methods of preserving food.

Of the many recipes I read through, the one that I finally worked with was from I don’t remember how I ended up settling on 500gr as my `1 part’ unit of measure … perhaps that’s the weight I ended up with for the first part — the root vegetables. All I had was the rocket and a little bit of swiss chard — everything else had to be bought. And boy, did I need a lot!

For the 1 part root veggies, I used carrots, turnip, and celeriac. For the 1 part greens, my rocket only came to 180gr, so I added in kale (150gr), bok choy (110gr), and my chard (60gr). For the 500gr of `onions’, I used 1 leek, 1 onion, and some garlic. And then finally, for the herbs, parsley and cilantro were purchased, and then I scrounged through the garden to come up with thyme, marjoram, sage, and rosemary. I was still shy 50gr so I put in kale to get the weight.

Assembling the ingredients.

Assembling the ingredients.

Which left 500gr of salt. Measure that into a large bowl and it just looks like toooo much!

Adding all that salt!

Adding all that salt!

I have to say that I didn’t figure out a good food processor method until the parsley at the end. I had been stuffing the greens into the food processor bowl and then turning the machine on. It laboured mightily as it tried to plough through the leaves and stems — it took a while for each bunch to be reduced to puree. The better method is to have the machine running and only then start feeding in the greens through the top of the bowl. Much faster — and easier on the motor!

Fluffy puree of greens.

Fluffy puree of greens.

So — each of the parts was pureed and put in a separate bowl. For the final mix, I did this manually — in a really large bowl! I ended up with 13 cups of verdurette! Waayyy too much to fit into my fridge (the suggested storage place) so I figured canning was my only option. I put all but one jar in the boiling water for 15 minutes. All those 1- and 2-cup jars are down in the basement, along with all the jams and jellies that I’ve made over the years.

Mass quantities of verdurette!

Mass quantities of verdurette!

It is indeed a very salty mix — a teaspoon is about all you need in a mug of boiling water. I’ve also added it to soups from time to time (just remember to NOT add salt!). It’s soon fall so I expect to be using it again. But perhaps 500gr is a bit too big a unit of measure for most of us …

UPDATE (6 Jan ’14): Well, bad news today. Looks like all my verdurette’s kinda gone bad. The jar I had half-finished in the fridge smelled bad today, so I tossed it and then got a sealed one from the basement. Opened it — same smell … not foul or rotten but still, it didn’t smell right … smelled a bit familiar but I can’t quite put my finger on it. Anyways, put that jar’s contents down the sink … along with all the others that had been canned. Kinda sad, because I really did like putting a big spoon of the stuff into boiling water and having a `green’ bouillon. 

The upshot: canning doesn’t seem to keep the verdurette from going off — it smelled the same as the jar that had been in use in the fridge. Next time, I’ll skip the canning and just put some in the fridge — and maybe try freezing some as well. It’ll have to wait till the coming fall, though 🙂

UPDATE (13 Nov. ’14): Well, it looks like I didn’t read my own instructions! I made verdurette again, after a 2-year break, and worked with 900-gr parts! So even more `mass quantities’! Oh well … On the other hand, this time I didn’t can any of it — the salt should be enough to preserve things. So, this year’s combinations:

  • root vegetables: carrots, parsnip, turnip, rutabaga, sweet potato, celeriac
  • onion family: leek and 2 onions
  • greens: kale, rocket, sorrel
  • herbs: parsley (I had a `bush’ of the stuff!), mustard greens, and a few sprigs of marjoram, dill, sage

One instruction I did follow from last time: add the greens and herbs while the blade is already spinning — everything worked out much better, with only the occasional prod. This year’s yield: 10 2-cup containers of product! One for the fridge, 6 in the garage (cold storage), and 3 in the freezer (another suggestion from the past, to see what happens).

By the way, I came across this title, which includes a variation on verdurette (p.129): Preserving Food without Freezing or Canning: Traditional Techniques Using Salt, Oil, Sugar, Alcohol, Vinegar, Drying, Cold Storage, and Lactic Fermentation. The entire text is available at this site:

I’ll post something once I’ve had a chance to taste-test the first jar …


Crab apples … look at all those crab apples! (2013)

This section is still under construction. I’m not yet done — but so far, I’ve made crab apple jelly and butter (with spices), and one batch of crab apple/red currant chutney. I’m testing various recipes for each of these `products’, to find the most pleasing (to me!) combinations of ingredients, methods, and results. All jars were canned (5 mins in a boiling water bath) afterwards.

NOTE: I don’t know what kind of crab apples I harvested — many are the size of Italian purple plums. The first batch were harvested in mid-August; the second batch two weeks later. The later harvest had deeper reds and more of the larger sizes. Both times, there were very few rejects (that is, with worms or worm holes). Also, none of these recipes call for pectin — the crab apples have plenty!

1. Source: Put a lid on it!  (Ellie Topp and Margaret Howard, 1997, p.55): `Spiced Apple Jelly’

    Yield: 2lbs crab apples –> 2c jelly

  • 2lbs crabs, cooked whole then let drip in jelly bag overnight. Yield: 2 7/8 cups of juice.
  • This recipe gives fixed amounts for the apples and sugar — but no mention how much juice 2 lbs should yield. The Bernardin Guide to Home Preserving (1995, p.22) says 1c juice needs 2/3c sugar, so that’s more or less what I do in this recipe: 2 7/8c juice + 1 1/2c sugar.
  • I let the juice + sugar (no lemon juice in this recipe) boil too long and I got a slightly burnt odour.
  • Boiling left a lot of bubbles, which I didn’t let rise and pop before putting everything into jars.
  • Tossed the mash residue left in the jelly bag.
Beautiful colours on the boil.

Beautiful colours on the boil.

2. Source:  (Sept. 2010): `Crabapple-Cranberry Slow Cooker Chutney’

NOTE: the above link doesn’t seem to work from my page. HOWEVER, if you use her website’s search window for `slow roasted crab apples’, you’ll get to the correct page. Just scroll down to the chutney recipe.

Yield: 6c crab apples –> 5 1/2c chutney

  • used 2c frozen red currant pulp  (from last year’s jelly making) instead of cranberries
  • used 1tbsp loosely packed fresh thyme leaves
  • stemmed the crabs but didn’t core them (chutneys have to sit for a month or so — so I’m hoping the cores are all dissolved!)
  • recipe doesn’t mention taking the lid off … after 8 hrs, the crabs were still whole and the mix was all still very runny, which I figured was no surprise. They tell you to leave the lid alone when making slow cooker recipes so of course the liquid didn’t boil off for me! Tried cooking in a regular pot for another 2 hours (also then added 5 chunks of candied ginger, sliced very finely) but it was still soupy. Next morning, I put it into the slow cooker again but put a splatter screen on it, rather than the lid. Another 1 1/2hrs and it did seem thicker, so I then bottled it up and boiled in the canner for 5 mins. I like the idea of the slow cooker — less power, it doesn’t use up a burner on the stove (!), and it’s not likely to burn. But the lid probably does need to come off, once the chutney begins to do a slow boil. I set my cooker on `auto’: 1 hr of high heat, then it shifts to low until it’s turned off.
  • Will try this method again.
Chutney with crab apples and red currants.

Chutney with crab apples and red currants (central jar).

3. Source: (July 2008): `Crab Apple Jelly’

Yield: 6lbs crab apples –> 4c jelly

  • there’s so much cooked crab apple that it filled two jelly bags!
  • the mashed crab apple stuff was so dense the juice dripped very very slowly. By morning, barely 3c of very thick juice from 6lbs! Compare that with the first jelly recipe (2lbs –> almost 3c juice). I think mashing the crabs is a mistake — there’s no need for it.
  • 3c juice + 1 1/2c sugar + 1 TBSP lemon juice (taking the cue from the Bernardin recipe, mentioned earlier)
  • gently boiled the juice this time (having learned from the first jelly-making attempt); skimmed the foam off into a bowl (lovely stuff that’s a treat to taste!)
  • make this again but DON’T MASH the crabs! Maybe more juice will come out — and more quickly! [next attempt is further down]

4. Source:  (August 2012): `Apple Butter’

Yield: 4c crab apple puree –> 6c `butter’

  • used 5c mash left over from the jelly recipe above (no.3) in place of the crabs/juice/water listed in the recipe (it starts from scratch — I had a lot of mash ready to use!). The rest I put into a large ziploc bag, smoothed it out, and put the `brick’ into the freezer, for future use
  • recipe spices: 1 tsp each cloves, allspice, nutmeg. My choices: 1/2 tsp each mace, ginger, allspice, nutmeg + 1tsp cloves. Tasting the result, I thought it needed more so added a few shakes of more allspice and then probably too much of nutmeg … moral: don’t shake more in! Measure it out — and maybe stick to 1tsp max. of any one spice …
  • DON’T FORGET the lemon zest — it makes all the difference!7-just-the-puree6-just-the-cores
  • BIG WHOOPSIE: when I started stirring all the ingredients around, there was a lot of crunchy sounds! … all those cores were still in the mash from the jelly making! Oh, boy … what to do?! Eventually I remember I had a cone strainer — what a God-send! Get yourself one of these things (flea market, garage sale, aunt’s cupboard, … wherever!). Tossed the whole pot of mixed ingredients into the strainer and just kept moving that pestle around … after maybe 8-10 mins., the crunchy sound was all the cores still inside the strainer … and coating the outside of it, all the lovely `apple sauce + spices’ (now only 4c of it), ready for the cooking stage! NOW you can finally toss the leftovers from the mash!
  • I didn’t like cooking the whole mix on high for 6 hours — other apple butter recipes were saying `cook till thick’ so that’s all I did (I’m afraid I didn’t make a note of how long this actually was).
  • results were so thick they left air pockets in the jars — removed most of them with a spatula.
Crab apple butter -- with a few air pockets.

Crab apple butter — with a few air pockets.

UPDATE 14 JUNE `14: It’s been 10 months since I made the apple butter. It’s very nice and unctuous 🙂 but yes, the spice overdose is still present. Moral of the story: measure the spices, use only what’s suggested. For any free-lancing … perhaps just add 1tsp of a single spice, to bring some variety to the table: ginger only, cinnamon only, come to mind. So, the crabs come into season in another couple of months — and I have a plan now!

5. Source:   (Sept 2010): `Slow Roasted Crabapples’

Yield: 2lbs –> burned yuck!

  • I used safflower oil rather than canola
  • crabs weren’t as large as those mentioned in the recipe (mine were maybe 1in in diameter) so probably should have checked after 1 hr.
  • results were burned on the bottom for the most part … but a few did taste quite good. And the cores did indeed pull out easily (I only used crabs that still had stems attached).
  • Probably worth a second attempt …
Roasted too long ... but some were delicious!

Roasted too long … but some were delicious!

6. Source: Bernardin Guide to Home Preserving(1995, 2nd ed., p.22): `Crab Apple Jelly’ (Crab apple jelly (Bernardin cookbook))

The Canadian Living recipe (no.3, above) seemed flawed: crushing the cooked apples, and then using fixed amounts for the ingredients. The Bernardin cookbook uses ratios, based on each cup of juice that drips from the jelly bag. To my mind, this is a better and more reliable approach.

Yield: 6lbs crabs –> 5 1/2c juice –> 6 1/2c jelly. Also: 4kg puree (after straining out cores)

  • cut crabs in half (helps find the wormy ones) and then rinsed in the sink. This allowed a lot of the pips from the sliced cores to drift to the bottom of the sink. Since jelly only wants the juice, it doesn’t much matter what’s left behind in the mash.
  • Crabs in the large pot (Maslin pan, from Lee Valley — a wonderful tool!), water added till just covered. Cooked down for about 35 mins and no mashing.
  • Filled one jelly bag for dripping (the juice started running right away so it is better to not mash) — and then thought to use the cone strainer for the rest. The latter has holes that allow some solids to go through, so the next morning, once I’d cleaned the mash from the jelly bag, I poured the juice from the cone strainer through the jelly bag, to catch the remaining solids. Worked like a charm! Results: 5 1/2c of runny juice (compared with the paltry 3c of `syrup’ from the first time, with mashing). I should note that I left the mash to drip for almost 24 hours.
  • Following the Bernardin ratios: 1c juice + 2/3c sugar + 1tbsp lemon juice. This mixture only needed 10 mins. to become thick. There was an interruption during cooking so the pot was removed for a minute or two, then returned for more cooking — but by then it was looking thick enough so back off the burner — and into the jars.
  • Puree was packed up in 2kg `bricks’ in ziplocs and are in the freezer, awaiting future plans for apple butters.
Crab apple jellies: first attempt (right, slightly cloudy); second attempt (left and gorgeous!).

Crab apple jellies: first attempt (right, slightly cloudy); second attempt (left and gorgeous!).

7. Source: my convergence of elements from 5 different recipes!  `Mixed Spice Crab Apple Chutney’ (Mixed spice crab apple chutney)

Yield: 2lbs crabs –> 6 1/2c chutney

Note: This recipe is my own concoction, with ingredients based on 5 other recipes. Also, I neglected to take any photos while making this second chutney variant. Perhaps when I open a jar in a month, I’ll remember to take a picture!

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

[ [  NOTE:  I still have my frozen `bricks’ of mash to turn into crab apple butters — and then write them up.  And of course, I’ve just been pushing all of this out without having an overall design plan so things may be revised at some point, as far as layout goes. It’ll do for now, though 🙂  — Ch.] ]



Rhubarb … don’t say `no’! (2016)

Someone offers you zucchini and the usual response is `Oh, I wouldn’t know how to use it all up’ … ‘coz we’re talking home-grown zucchini — you know — the size of brickbats.

Someone offers you rhubarb and you might be tempted to give the same response. But be brave and say `I would love to have some rhubarb! Oh, yes, please!’

Good. So you were brave and now you’ve got these stalks (with leaves and bottoms cut off). Rinse, leave them in some clean water to perk up a bit — while you get out a big saucepan (thick-bottomed is best). You’re going to cook that rhubarb down into a stringy, brownish reddish sauce, freeze it, and then long after the short season’s ended, pull it out, defrost — and enjoy!

I use Darina Allen’s recipe from Traditional Irish Cooking (1998, p.197), for Rhubarb Fool:

  1. Chop the rhubarb into 1-inch pieces and put in the saucepan.
  2. Every pound of rhubarb needs 1 cup of sugar + 2 TBSP water. (I sometimes add a smidge of ginger — ground or candied or dried).
  3. Mix it all up, bring to a boil (stirring on occasion), then simmer till the rhubarb’s lost its shape — that `stringy, brownish reddish sauce’ stage.
  4. Let cool, put into small containers (maybe like the ones sour cream comes in), and freeze.

Of course, if you happen to have some whipped cream around … don’t freeze just yet. In either individual dishes or a large bowl, gently swirl or fold the whipped cream into the cooked rhubarb, to get a spiral effect.

And then sit back and very slowly savour the result.

Now go freeze some more. And repeat again, as needed. You may need to purchase a larger freezer at some point …

And then there’s the gooseberry … the old-fashioned, massively sour green gooseberry



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